true crime

Aaron Campbell, 16, murdered a 6-year-old girl. His mum's CCTV footage convicted him.

Warning: This post deals with rape and child abuse and could be triggering for some readers.

Six-year-old Alesha MacPhail fell asleep watching a Peppa Pig DVD. She awoke in the arms of a teenage boy, who was carrying her away to rape her and kill her.

July 1, 2018 had been a great day for the “happy, smiley” schoolgirl. On holidays with her father’s family at their home on the Scottish island of Bute, Alesha had spent the afternoon at a birthday party. Later, she’d chased a balloon along the beach, and then had pizza for dinner, before going to bed.

Just after 6am the next day, Alesha’s grandfather Calum MacPhail got up for work and noticed the little girl wasn’t in her bedroom. Alesha’s dad Robert, Robert’s girlfriend Toni McLachlan and Alesha’s grandmother Angela King searched the house and yard, then called the police to report her missing. They went on social media and asked locals to help look for her.

One of the locals who immediately started searching was Jorge Williams. He walked up a path near his house and, to his shock, saw Alesha’s body. He rang emergency services, telling the operator, “I’ve found the wee girl. She’s dead. She’s naked.”

The police called the MacPhails into the station, and told them, “We’ve found her, but she has passed.”

Little Alesha had been brutally raped. She had suffered 117 injuries, some of which were later described by a pathologist as “catastrophic”. She had died from “significant pressure” being applied to her face and neck. The soles of her feet were clean, showing that someone had carried her for 15 minutes from her bedroom to the old hotel site where she was killed.

The residents of the small, picturesque island were in shock. They placed floral tributes in front of the house.

Alesha MacPhail murder
The community has been left reeling by the six-year-old's death. Image: Getty.

"I am lost for words and this is not something we are used to in our community," local Uniting Church minister Owain Jones told the BBC. “Whatever it is, it's just tragic."

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Back in Alesha’s home town of Airdrie, where she lived with her mother Georgina Lochrane, her death was mourned by her friends. Wendy Davie, the head teacher at Alesha’s school, Chapelside Primary, described her as “a smiley and happy young girl".

“She was such a perfectionist in her handwriting and was very proud of her work,” Davie said.

Less than a day after Alesha’s body was found, a woman who lived nearby checked her CCTV footage from the night of the murder, hoping to find something that would assist police with their enquiries. She saw her 16-year-old son, Aaron Campbell, leaving the house and returning several times during the night. Thinking that he might have seen something, she told the police.

On the night of the murder, Campbell had hosted a party at the family home. He was drunk when the party finished, and wanted to buy marijuana. He messaged Alesha’s father Robert, who he’d bought drugs from before. But he’d had a falling-out with Robert and owed him money. Robert didn’t reply.

When news of Alesha’s murder broke, Campbell made a video and posted it to a Snapchat group. It showed his reflection in a mirror, along with the words, “Found the guy who did it.”

It didn’t take the police long to find enough evidence to arrest Campbell. DNA that matched his was found on Alesha’s body in 14 places. Meanwhile, a search of his phone revealed that he had recently googled, “How do police find DNA?”

Still, Campbell insisted he was innocent, and the case went to trial in February this year, causing trauma to Alesha’s family. Campbell claimed that Robert’s girlfriend, Toni McLachlan, was the real killer. He claimed that he and McLachlan had had sex on the night Alesha died, and McLachlan had “planted” semen from the condom to make him look guilty. McLachlan denied it.

"I don't know how to take it,” she said. “I'm sad, I'm angry, I'm full of emotions.”

The jury convicted Campbell. Afterwards, Campbell admitted to a psychologist that he had killed Alesha. He said he’d gone to her father’s home in search of marijuana. The key had been left in the door, and he’d walked right in.

When he saw Alesha asleep in bed, he saw it as “a moment of opportunity". He’d been thinking about doing “something excessive” for the past 12 months.

"All I thought about was killing her once I saw her,” he told the psychologist.

As Campbell carried Alesha away, she woke up. He told her he was a friend of her father’s, and was taking her home. When she said she was cold, he gave her his jacket.

Alesha MacPhail murder
The residents of the small, picturesque island were in shock. They placed floral tributes in front of the house. Image: Getty.
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Campbell told the psychologist he was “quite satisfied” with the murder. He said he’d had to “zip his mouth” to stop himself from laughing during the trial.

As was revealed in court, Campbell was a popular student at school who was good at maths and physics. He liked to lift weights, and also loved to play video games, dreaming of a career as a game designer. He had his own YouTube channel that showed him playing games such as Slender Man, as well as demonstrating his trampolining skills. After Campbell’s conviction, YouTube removed his channel.

Judge Lord Matthews said Campbell had committed some of the "wickedest, most evil crimes this court has ever heard".

"I can't think of a case in recent times that has attracted such revulsion," he added.

Campbell was given a life sentence, and told he would have to serve at least 27 years before he would be considered for parole. The judge said the psychologist’s report found Campbell was not suffering from a mental health disorder but showed a total lack of victim empathy.

After the verdict was handed down, Alesha’s mum, Georgina Lochrane, put out a statement saying that words couldn’t express how devastated she was to have lost her “beautiful, happy, smiley, wee girl”.

"I am glad that the boy who did this has finally been brought to justice and that he will not be able to inflict the pain on another family that he has done to mine,” she said.

"Alesha, I love you so much, my wee pal. I will miss you forever."

Campbell has been granted permission to appeal against his sentence.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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