Carers accused of murdering a missing woman claim she is still alive, a court has heard.
Margaret Fleming (pictured) was reported missing in October 2016 from her home in Inverkip, Inverclyde, but has allegedly not been seen since December 1999.
Edward Cairney, 76, and Avril Jones, 58, are due to face trial next month accused of her abduction and murder, and of claiming £182,000 in benefits fraudulently by pretending she was still alive.
They deny all the charges against them.
At a pre-trial hearing at the High Court in Glasgow on Friday, advocate depute Iain McSporran QC said: “At least one of the accused has claimed to be in telephone contact with Margaret Fleming.
“The defence position is that Margaret Fleming is not dead.”
The trial is expected to involve around 200 witnesses and last between six and eight weeks.
Mr McSporran said: “It will be a lengthy trial. Much of which will be devoted to establishing that Margaret Fleming is in fact deceased.”
Defence QC Thomas Ross, for Cairney, said the volume of material in the case is “extraordinary”.
He said: “This is certainly more material than I’ve ever seen in any case.”
It is alleged Cairney and Jones abducted Ms Fleming at her home at Seacroft, Inverkip, locked her in a room, assaulted her, cut her hair and bound her arms and wrists with tape on various occasions between November 1 1995 and January 5 2000.
The pair are accused of murdering Ms Fleming, who would now be 37, by unknown means at some point between December 18, 1999 and January 5, 2000.
It is alleged that between December 18, 1999 and October 2016 they pretended to Department of Work and Pensions officials that Ms Fleming was alive, and claimed state benefits, obtaining £182,000 by fraud.
The pair also face two charges of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.
It is alleged they disposed of, destroyed or concealed the remains and personal effects of Ms Fleming between December 18, 1999 and October 26, 2017.
They are also accused of trying to board a train to London at Glasgow Central Station on October 25, 2017 while carrying £3,500 and the keys to a safe deposit box at a bank in London which contained £27,000.
It is alleged they planned to travel and evade police and prosecutors.
Neither Cairney nor Jones were present at the hearing on Friday, the former having being excused due to mobility issues and the latter having transport problems.
Lord Matthews continued the case until Friday August 10 for a further pre-trial hearing.
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