Killer who murdered friend cleared of domestic abuse claims due to lack of evidence

A killer who murdered a friend has been cleared of claims he hounded his girlfriend for nine years after he was released from jail.

Steven Burns was caged for life in 1999 for murdering pal Patrick O’Dowd in their hometown.

He stabbed the 26-year-old in the stomach after his victim had asked him to leave a party due to his drunken behaviour, the Daily Record reports.

Burns, 44, was released on parole in 2010 and went on to start a relationship with Joanne O’Rourke, 41.

Yesterday, at Paisley Sheriff Court, he was cleared of a nine-year campaign of abuse due to lack of evidence.

The court heard the pair met in a pub in 2011 and went on a date the following week before striking up a romance in 2012.

But the relationship landed them both in court yesterday.

Burns went on trial accused of “behaving in a threatening or abusive manner which was likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm”.

Prosecutors claimed he “did engage in a course of conduct” towards his ex-partner – and did “behave in a controlling and coercive manner towards her” – between May 12, 2011, and June 24, 2020.

He was alleged to have shouted, swore, refused to leave her home when requested to, and repeatedly contacted “her and others” on WhatsApp to find out where she was.

It was also claimed he did “discourage her interaction with friends, family members and others and isolate her”, controlled her access to money by convincing her to give him her bank card, and left her scared and worried for her safety.

Part of her police statement was read to the court and, in it, she said: “I was terrified of what he might do”.

But after she gave evidence, Procurator Fiscal Depute Ed Sheeran, prosecuting, told Sheriff Tom McCartney he was dropping the charge.

He said: “Having considered the evidence of Joanne O’Rourke, and comparing that against the evidence left to be heard, I form the view there is insufficient evidence on which the Crown can seek a conviction, and I withdraw the libel against the accused.”

Sheriff McCartney said: “The Procurator Fiscal Depute has advised that the Crown are not proceeding with this matter.

“You are acquitted in respect of the charge on this indictment.”

He then told the jury, who were appearing via video link, that the decision to drop the charge had been “taken after careful consideration”.

Burns had been remanded in custody over the abuse claims.

But despite being cleared, he will remain behind bars, as his life licence was revoked after the abuse claims emerged.

His original trial at the High Court in Paisley heard that Mr O’Dowd died at the town’s Royal Alexandra Hospital despite attempts to save him.

The court heard that trouble flared at a party he and Mr O’Dowd were at in Gladstone Avenue, Barrhead, East Renfrewshire, on July 5, 1998.

Mr O’Dowd was asked to tell Burns to leave, as he was becoming a drunken pest.

Burns returned and demanded to know why he’d been thrown out, resulting in a fight breaking out between them and Burns stabbing his victim.

Sentencing Burns to life, Lord Nimmo Smith said he had taken Mr O’Dowd’s life in a fit of drunken anger.