Man accused in Sally McGrath murder case had ‘chatted her up twice’ before she disappeared

Sally McGrath.
Sally McGrath.
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A man accused of murdering Peterborough woman Sally McGrath exchanged phone numbers with her weeks before she went missing, a court has heard.

The jury at Chelmsford Crown Court also heard how Paul Taylor (60), who is accused of Miss McGrath’s murder in 1979, “chatted up” the 22-year-old on two occasions.

Paul Stringer (49), Taylor’s next door neighbour at the time, added that he saw Taylor burn some of his clothes in his back garden shortly after Miss McGrath’s disappearance and that Taylor had kept newspapers featuring articles about her disappearance in his van.

He also claimed that Taylor made him clean out his Bedford van just after she disappeared as well.

Mr Stringer, who was 16 at the time, said he was “too scared” of Taylor to tell police and that Taylor had threatened him with violence.

Taylor, who now lives in Fareham, Hampshire, is also accused of three counts of rape, one attempted rape and one indecent assault.

The charges relate to different women. Taylor denies all the charges.

Mr Stringer told the court that four or five weeks before Sally McGrath disappeared, he and Taylor were driving through Woodston in Taylor’s van.

Taylor spotted Miss McGrath walking down the street and stopped the vehicle to “chat her up”.

A few days later, the pair were also in the van when they spotted Miss McGrath sitting on a bench.

Mr Stringer said: “Paul got out of the van and went over to the bench to speak to her. There were phone numbers exchanged. He got back in the van giggling and said ‘I’ve just scored’ then he drove off.”

Asked how he knew the woman was Sally McGrath, Mr Stringer said that he later recognised her from photographs in newspapers after her disappearance.

Asked if Taylor read newspapers, Mr Stringer said: “He always bought the newspaper every day, but just to read the headlines about Sally McGrath.

“He kept the Sally McGrath newspapers in his van. He did not want to talk about it with me, when it was mentioned he growled. It was a touchy thing to talk about.

“About two weeks after Sally McGrath went missing, Taylor asked me to clean out his van and ask no questions. Around the same time he burned some of his clothes in his back garden, some jeans, jumpers and a few other items.

“I did not tell the police everything because I was scared. Paul Taylor threatened me several times. I had my suspicions but I was just a kid, no-one would have believed me. I know what Taylor’s done and he knows what he’s done.”

Mr Stringer also claimed he witnessed Taylor rape a 17-year-old girl in woods near Castor, close to where Miss McGrath’s body was found in June 1979.

He told the court that Taylor drove him and the girl to a secluded area of woodland and told him to leave him alone with her. When he returned, ten minutes later, he said he saw Taylor with his trousers around his ankles and the girl in a distressed state.

Mr Stringer claimed that Taylor drove him and the girl home and told him not to say anything about it.

But Orlando Pownall, defending, argued that Taylor and the girl had kissed after getting out of the van and the girl had given Taylor consent to have sex.

Mr Stringer said: “I felt bad for leaving the girl there. I was a coward for not helping her.”

The trial continues.