A convicted forger has admitted beating Irish student Karen Buckley to death with a spanner then trying to dispose of her body using caustic soda.
Karen’s parents travelled from Cork to hear that Alexander Pacteau, 21, had pleaded guilty to their daughter’s murder when he appeared at Glasgow’s High Court.
A major search was launched for 24-year-old Karen when she was reported missing from the flat she shared with friends after failing to return home from a nightclub in Glasgow’s west end in April this year. Her body was found four days later in a barrel at a farm on the outskirts of the city.
Karen, a nurse who was studying for a post-graduate qualification at Glasgow Caledonian University, was seen on CCTV leaving The Sanctuary nightclub in the early hours of Sunday, April 12.
The footage captured her talking to a man as they walked along Dumbarton Rd.
The court heard Pacteau, who has a previous conviction for printing counterfeit £20 notes, met Ms Buckley outside the club in the early hours and drove her in his car to nearby Kelvin Way.
The car was parked on the street for 12 minutes, during which time Pacteau, who describes himself as a “self-employed sales consultant”, murdered her by grabbing her neck and delivering 12 or 13 blows with a spanner.
Karen suffered injuries to her arm as she tried to defend herself.
Pacteau’s silver Ford Focus was captured on CCTV leaving the area and heading towards Dawsholm Park, where the following morning a member of the public found Karen’s handbag near a bin.
Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, prosecuting, told the court how Pacteau then drove to his flat and tookKaren’s body inside.
At 8am, he used his mobile phone to look up the properties of a chemical called sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda. He then locked his bedroom door and travelled to a B&Q store, where he bought six litres of the chemical and masks and gloves.
He also went to a Poundstretcher store near his flat and bought more of the chemical.
He texted his flatmate to make sure he would be out for the day, then returned to the flat and left Karen’s body in the bath.
Pacteau was found cleaning the hall and stairwell when his flatmate returned home at around 8pm. He had moved Karen’s body into his locked bedroom again and wrapped it in a duvet.
Mr Mulholland told the court how Pacteau left his flat at about 5am the following morning and went to a bridge over the nearby Forth and Clyde canal, where he threw the spanner into the water.
He then drove to a supermarket and bought cleaning products and asked a member of staff to recommend a product for removing blood from a mattress.
Pacteau made his first journey to High Craigton Farm, an area familiar to him after he rented a storage unit there during a previous job selling fireworks. He stopped at a supermarket on the way to buy white spirit and a lighter, the court was told.
He burned some clothing while there before returning to his flat, where he used his mobile phone to call a packaging company and order a large blue barrel.
Mr Mulholland said Pacteau collected the barrel and returned to Dorchester Avenue, where he placed Ms Buckley’s body in the barrel.
He then took the mattress in his car to the farmland, where he burned it, along with other items, before returning to the flat and taking the barrel to his car.
Pacteau stopped off to buy padlocks, then made his way to the farm where he arranged to rent two storage units for a week before moving the barrel into one of the units, covering it with a sheet and placing a bike wheel and a paper shredder on top.
Pacteau then visited a car valet on his way home, at around 4pm.
While waiting for the Ford Focus to be cleaned, Pacteau used his phone to create an advert to sell his car.
Police officers knocked on his door around two hours later after he was identified on the CCTV footage.
Opening the door to the police, Pacteau said: “I was just coming to see you.”
The officers noticed a strong smell of bleach in the flat and a tool box and other items in a bedroom.
Pacteau gave a statement saying he met Karen outside the club and they went back to his flat, where they had consensual sex.
He told police Karen had fallen and injured herself on the bed frame but he did not notice she had been bleeding until the following morning and when he realised police were looking for information regarding her disappearance he panicked.
He told them that he had burned the mattress and clothes on a forest road because he was aware that he was the last person to have seen her alive.
Meanwhile, police searching his flat found traces of Karen’s blood.
When he was detained by police, officers recovered a hand-written note containing the account of what he had earlier told police.
The court heard how a witness had contacted police after reading that Pacteau was the last person to see Karen and told officers about the storage unit at the farm that Pacteau used in the past.
Police went to High Craigton Farm where they found the blue plastic barrel containing Karen’s body.
The court heard how Pacteau, who sat in the dock with his head bowed, later told officers that Karen had slapped him on the face when she was in his bedroom and he grabbed the first thing to hand to hit her and she died.
Defence QC John Scullion told the court Pacteau accepted “full responsibility” for his actions.
“He has instructed me to convey on his behalf an apology to Karen Buckley’s family and friends, but he understands that such words are unlikely to give any comfort to them, and whilst I too recognise that nothing said on his behalf is likely to lessen the pain and suffering which he has caused to those who loved Karen Buckley, those are my instructions,” Mr Scullion said.
The lawyer said Pacteau can offer no “rational explanation” for his actions but that he had said he was “extremely intoxicated” when he met Karen and has a “limited recollection”.
He said the pair spoke briefly in the street before driving off in his car with her in the direction of her flat, but shortly afterwards he said they had an argument over a “trivial” matter and he reacted angrily and lost his temper, Mr Scullion said.
He said Pacteau accepted his actions in trying to dispose of Karen’s body were “despicable and beneath contempt”.
Judge Lady Rae deferred sentence until September 8.
She told him: “This crime is a very shocking and disturbing case. You killed a young woman who was a stranger to you in what appears to be a motiveless, senseless, brutal attack.”
Pacteau ‘forged money to hide fact he was on benefits’
By Joe Leogue
A privately educated conman, Alexander Pacteau had previous convictions prior to the murder of Karen Buckley.
Last year, Pacteau was convicted of forging bank notes, and the then 20-year-old, who had attended a prestigious fee-paying school, told the court that he did so to hide the fact that he was on benefits.
STV News in Scotland reported that officers searched Pacteau’s flat, where they found equipment consistent with making fake money, and that he had forged bank notes worth £6,000. Pacteau would electronically scan £20 notes and cut out the prints in an attempt to use them as genuine currency.
Appearing before Glasgow Sheriff Court in May 2014, Pacteau pleaded guilty to printing £20 Royal Bank of Scotland notes on March 1, 2014, and intending to pass them off as real notes.
Defence solicitor Andy Phillips told the court that in November 2011 Pacteau suffered a broken hip and ribs when he was involved in a serious car crash, and that he was put in an induced coma for three to four weeks.
“He told me he felt ashamed that he had to sign on for benefits despite his injuries and circumstances he found himself in and did not want to admit this to his family so he put on the pretence he was running his own business again, successfully,” Mr Philips told the court.
The following July, Sheriff Sam Cathcart ordered Pacteau to undergo community payback — the Scottish equivalent of Community Service — and ordered him to do 225 hours’ unpaid work.
Growing up, Pacteau attended the private Kelvinside Academy, where fees for the school year can currently cost up to £11,150 (€15,773).
Pacteau, whose parents are believed to be separated, was serving as the director of his own courier business at the time of the murder.
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