YouTuber charged with murder faked live stream alibi, court told
A YouTuber has appeared in court charged with murdering a pregnant woman after detectives questioned his live stream alibi.
Stephen McCullagh, from Lisburn in Northern Ireland, is accused of stabbing to death 32-year-old Natalie McNally in her home in the city on December 18 last year.
The 32-year-old was arrested the day after the murder but initially ruled out as a suspect after telling police he had been broadcasting a live gaming stream on his YouTube channel at the time of the killing.
But he was re-arrested on January 31 when technical experts claimed to have unearthed evidence suggesting the broadcast had actually been pre-recorded.
During a hearing before a district judge at Lisburn magistrates’ court on Thursday morning, the court was told Mr McCullagh had 37,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel.
On the night of the murder he had been broadcasting a six-hour live stream that showed him playing the computer game, Grand Theft Auto.
However, during the broadcast Mr McCullagh had explained to his followers he was unable to interact with them directly because of technical issues.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil McGuinness from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told the hearing extensive technical examination of Mr McCullagh’s computers had indicated that the footage was pre-recorded and played out as if it was live.
Mr McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that while Mr McCullagh denies involvement in the murder he has conceded in police interview that the purported live stream was pre-recorded by him days earlier.
"At the conclusion of the interview process last night or early this morning, after consultation with his legal representative, Mr McCullagh has given us a written statement essentially and in that written statement he has acceded that that live stream was not live and was in fact recorded by him on the 13th into the 14th of December and that he had streamed it on the night of Sunday the 18th," he told the court.
The court was told that Mr McCullagh had been arrested in the wake of the murder but then ruled out a suspect on the basis of the alleged live stream alibi.
Mr McCullagh works part time for the Belfast Telegraph newspaper and the court heard he and Ms McNally had been exchanging messages on the afternoon before she was killed.
Craig Patton, the barrister for the defence, challenged the basis of the decision to charge Mr McCullagh.
He said: "Essentially, what the evidence seems to all hang on is that this man did not live stream when he said he live streamed."
Ms McNally's parents Noel and Bernie and brothers Declan, Niall and Brendan were in court for the hearing.
Mr McCullagh watched proceedings via video link from a police custody suite. He did not speak at any stage in the proceedings.
Remanded in custody
He was remanded in custody to appear before Craigavon magistrates' court on February 24 via video link.
In a statement, the McNally family said: "Over the past six weeks we have opened our home and our hearts to the media, politicians, church leaders, campaign groups and the wider public. We did so in our determined quest for justice for our Natalie and baby Dean.
"We have also used our platform to call for an immediate end to violence against women and girls. We cannot thank you all enough for your steadfast support that has carried us through.
"We welcome the latest development in the case. Information remains key and we continue to call for any and all information to be brought forward to the PSNI or Crimestoppers. We would now request some privacy to allow us to grieve privately as a family."