Gemma McCluskie trial: Friend comforted murder accused Tony McCluskie

15:41 16 January 2013

Gemma McCluskie. Picture: Metropolitan Police

Gemma McCluskie. Picture: Metropolitan Police

A friend of Gemma McCluskie told a jury today how she cuddled the actress’s brother to comfort him, unaware he had dismembered her body days earlier.

Nicole McLaren told the Old Bailey today that she “felt sorry” for Tony McCluskie as they searched for his sister in the days following her disappearance in March last year.

McCluskie, 35, of Pelter Street, Shoreditch, denies murdering the 29-year-old, cutting up her body and dumping it in the Regent’s Canal in east London.

He has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Ms McLaren, a neighbour who had known Gemma since childhood, told the court that she and the defendant visited pubs together where his sister worked in an effort to trace her.

She said: “I was walking ahead in the street and I heard Tony say, ‘where’s my sister?’ I cuddled him, we were holding each other.”

Ms McLaren said she “felt sorry” for McCluskie when his brother Danny reacted angrily over his apparent confusion about when he last saw their sister.

She told the court: “I rubbed Tony’s leg because I felt sorry for him. I thought he was under pressure. He was nervous.”

Ms McLaren said she noticed bandages on McCluskie’s hand shortly after his sister’s disappearance.

“He said he’d had a fight with two fellas outside his house about a fortnight earlier,” she said.

Ms McLaren told defence barrister Jeremy Dein QC that she had only seen Gemma react angrily once, when she slapped a man in a bar.

She had also exchanged “heated” messages on Facebook with a woman her boyfriend had been seeing, Ms McLaren said.

A police search of the house McCluskie shared with his sister found that entry to her bedroom was blocked by piles of clothes, leading officers to believe she was hoarding items, the court heard.

When Gemma was reported missing to police, the defendant told officers he was not initially concerned when she failed to return home because he believed she was staying with a friend.

Miss McCluskie played Kerry Skinner, the niece of Ethel Skinner, in EastEnders in 2001.

Her torso was discovered on March 6 and over the next fortnight, her arms and legs were recovered separately from the water.

Her head, which had been dumped in the canal at the same time, was not found until September.

Police discovered that a man with a heavy suitcase matching McCluskie’s description had taken a minicab to the canal the day after his sister disappeared.

Blood was found in the boot of the car and McCluskie’s father and brother “no doubt with heavy hearts” said they recognised him from CCTV.

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The service was inundated with offers of help, but has said its supplies are “adequate”.

“They were more than just police officers – they were a son, they were a husband, and they were a dad.”

The incident happened in George Square, close to Queen Street Station.

Eyewitnesses describe bodies lying in the road.

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