THE murder of 27-year-old heroin addict Margo Lafferty in the winter of 1998 was shocking in more ways than one.

Margo was the seventh Glasgow sex worker to have died in as many years.

As yet no-one had been convicted, prompting fears that the women were being targeted by a serial killer.

The police had always denied the existence of such a person, insisting that none of the attacks were linked.

But until someone was finally put behind bars, the nagging doubts would persist.

There was also another reason this latest murder was giving very real cause for concern.

Margo was more streetwise and experienced than the average sex worker.

Glasgow Times:

She had been brought up in the tough Barlanark area of the city with six brothers.
Margo could handle herself, though she was only five foot tall and weighed seven stone.

If anyone tried anything on, they were more than likely to come off second best.
The other sex workers realised that if Margo could fall victim, they were all at risk.

Margo had started on heroin and temazepam at the age of 18, but also held down a full-time job as a hotel worker.

Unfortunately, the drugs took over her life and she became a sex worker to pay for her growing habit.

Despite Margo’s chaotic lifestyle, the young woman had a warm, caring side and was very loyal to her many friends.

Her naked body was discovered in a doorway, off West Regent Lane around 6pm on Saturday, February 28.

It was the place Margo and other sex workers regularly took clients.
One police officer called to the city centre scene immediately recognised the victim.

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She had been brutally beaten around the face and head, strangled and her clothes scattered on the ground in the early hours of that morning.

At the time Margo lived in a flat in Oxford Street in the Tradeston area of the city.

One neighbour later expressed surprise on learning she had been a prostitute. 

He said: “She was just an everyday neighbour. She never caused any problems and was very quiet.”

Another neighbour thought Margo had worked in a club or casino because of the late hours she kept.

He added: “She seemed a very nice looking, respectable lassie. I can’t believe she is dead.”

Scattered round Margo’s body were five vital clues, used condoms, each one capable of producing DNA evidence to unmask her killer.

Her clothes were bagged for forensic analysis and that’s when detectives got their first break.

There was a minute spot of blood on her top, which detectives believed belong to the killer.

They got another breakthrough after a fresh appeal for the names of men spotted with recent facial injuries.

They knew Margo would have fought for dear life and would have left her mark on the killer.

One caller told the murder investigation team about Brian Donnelly, 19, from Garscadden Road, Old Drumchapel.

Donnelly had been on a Friday work night out in the city centre when the murder later took place.

He had also been celebrating his 19th birthday.

Donnelly returned to work on the Monday after the murder with a badly scratched and bruised face.

He claimed the marks were inflicted by a girl who had tried to jump the taxi queue.

One workmate didn’t believe the story and gave his name to detectives who pulled him in for questioning.

A DNA sample taken from the teenager matched two condoms found at the scene and the blood on Margo’s top.

Donnelly was charged with murder but there was a problem for the police.

Earlier in the inquiry, they had identified another possible suspect, convicted sex offender David Payne, 32, from Scarborough, Yorkshire. Payne had been in the red-light district that same night picking up prostitutes.

Payne was ruled out by detectives, but they were obliged to disclose his details to Donnelly’s legal team.

When the trial began at the High Court in Glasgow in October, Payne was called to give evidence.

The steel erector said he had been in Glasgow at the time and admitted having sex with a prostitute – not Margo – on the night she was murdered.

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Jurors heard that one of the used condoms found near Margo’s body contained Payne’s DNA and two others had Donnelly’s. 

Payne, it was revealed, had served long prison sentences for sexually assaulting women at knifepoint.

However, the evidence against Donnelly was more compelling and ultimately damning.

Jurors were shown CCTV footage of Margo being picked up by Donnelly at the corner of Wellington Street and Bothwell Street, the heart of Glasgow’s red-light area. She was never seen alive again.

Prosecutors said deep scratch marks on Donnelly’s face had been inflicted by Margo’s fingernails during her fight for her life.

The most damning evidence was the two used condoms and the spot of blood found on her clothing.

In evidence, Donnelly admitted that he had paid for Margo’s services as a “birthday treat” and they had parted amicably.

His defence claimed that, if Donnelly had been guilty, he wouldn’t have gone to work two days later. Instead, he would have remained at home for the wounds to heal.

However, the jury was not convinced and found Donnelly guilty by a majority verdict, with the trial judge giving him a life term. It was never clear why Donnelly carried out the murder of a woman with such force and venom.

He had also stripped Margo naked and stolen her cash and black leather jacket. 
One theory is that Donnelly went into a rage after his advances had been rejected by a female work colleague earlier that night.

Glasgow Times:

Margo’s mother, Madge Lafferty, 60, who was in court to hear the verdict, said afterwards: “I always knew that the man in the dock was the monster who murdered my daughter.

“She might have been a prostitute, but she was still a lovely lassie with a heart of gold. 

“She didn’t deserve to die the way she did. Nobody does. Donnelly was just pure evil.”
Just as crucially, Donnelly’s conviction finally laid to rest the rumours of a serial killer stalking the red-light area.

Detective Superintendent John Campbell, who had led the murder investigation, said: “I hope this case sends a clear and unmistakable message that there is not, and never has been, a serial killer of prostitutes loose in Glasgow.

“Despite the closest examination, there were no links between the murder of Margo and any of the other deaths.”

However, despite the guilty verdict, the case was far from finished. 

Donnelly’s legal team claimed the judge misdirected the jury during his summing up at the end of the 1998 trial. 

As a result, he won a retrial in February 2001 and was again found guilty at the High Court in Glasgow, this time unanimously.

Margo’s murder led to more help for sex workers to get them off drugs and off the streets. Furthermore, 80% of the 850 women operating at night in the city’s red-light district were heroin addicts.

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Detective Chief Inspector Nan Pollock, who had played a key role in the hunt for Margo’s killer, was given a special role in charge of all issues relating to the welfare of the city’s sex workers. 

Routes Out of Prostitution was set up to give women an alternative to selling themselves on the street. 

A drop-in centre was also opened in the heart of the red-light district where women could get daily help and support.

The then head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Thomas Winning, asked female parishioners to volunteer to work in the red-light area to help the sex workers.
Writing in the Scottish Catholic Observer, Winning said: “We all have a duty to help those women, often trapped in a vicious circle of drug addiction, money worries and abusive relationships.”

By early 2014, Donnelly was on a training for freedom programme, which involved him leaving Barlinnie Prison each day for an outside work placement. 

It was also reported that the lifer was due to be moved to more open jail conditions at Castle Huntly near Dundee.

However, Margo’s family was far from happy with this news.

At the time her older brother Mark, 49, said: “He is sick and is clearly a danger to women. 

“If I see him outside, I’d do something about it. 

“He should be under constant supervision, not out in public.”