The Oldest Profession

Partner of murdered Aberdeen woman didn’t know she was an escort until after she was killed

Published in The Press & Journal
5th January 2017

A man has gone on trial accused of murdering and raping an escort girl in a city-centre apartment. Bala Chinda is accused of inflicting blunt force trauma to Jessica McGraa’s head, compressing her neck, forcing her face into a pillow and asphyxiating her.

The 26-year-old is also accused of holding her down on a bed and raping her at a property in Aberdeen’s Union Terrace on February 11 last year. He faces further allegations that he stole a key and two mobile phones from 36-year-old Miss McGraa, and disposed of his own handset in attempt to defeat the ends of justice.

On the opening day of his trial at the High Court in Aberdeen, jurors heard she phoned the student she had been seeing shortly before her death. Twenty-one-year-old Patrick Dignam told the court he believed Miss McGraa was in Inverness, but found out from her friend that she was in Aberdeen when he tried to get in touch with her later.

Mr Dignam, from Belfast said he met Miss McGraa in November 2015 at a pub in the city in Northern Ireland. He said that they started seeing each other, and although the mum was “always” away, they were in regular contact. Mr Dignam said he told him she sold hair extensions for a living and had her own shop in London. He said it was not until after her death that he discovered she was an escort.

Advocate depute Paul Kearney, prosecuting, asked him about a phone call he had with Miss McGraa on February 11.

Mr Dignam said it was around noon and he had been in his bed. He said: “She was with another fella, I was just awake and sort of annoyed, after a few seconds I hung up on her.”

Mr Kearney asked him how he knew she was not alone, and Mr Dignam said: “She said she was with someone. She said he was from Nigeria or wherever it was she was from, she said her ‘home boy’.” Mr Dignam said that after he hung up he was waiting for Miss McGraa to call him back.

Mr Kearney asked him: “The jury may hear evidence that Jessica McGraa was working as an escort, at that time did you know?”

He replied: “No, it was only after when I started seeing the news and the police told me about it.”

Mr Dignam told the court that he waited until February 13 to call her, and that her main phone was switched off, with no answer from the other. He told Mr Kearney that he checked her WhatsApp status, saying she had been last active “just after I came off the phone – she was a daily user of it, it was a bit strange”.

When he was unable to get hold of her he called one of her friends, saying: “She was really worried too, she told me where she was staying. “I thought it was Inverness, but she told me Aberdeen and gave me the name of the apartments. I called them (the apartments) and said I’m worried about someone and would they find out if they are ok. They said they would get back to me, then a few hours later Police Scotland called me.”

Chinda’s defence counsel, Ian Duguid QC, asked Mr Dignam: “At no time did your relationship with her have the nature of paying for meeting her?”

He replied: “No, I just thought she was on business selling hair.”

Mr Duguid also asked him if Miss McGraa had told him she had a shop in London, and he agreed that she had. He also asked him about a Gucci hat Miss McGraa was wearing in a CCTV clip taken the day before her death in Union Square, and Mr Dignam told him “she was into all the brands”.

Mr Duguid asked him about the call on February 11, saying: “Did you know if she was with anyone else?”

He replied: “I got that she was with another fella, that annoyed me.”

Mr Duguid put it to him: “Did you get information that there was another female?”

Mr Dignam said: “She said Isabel, but I never believed it, I had never heard of this woman before.”

The court also heard evidence from Kenneth Thomson, scene examiner for the Scottish Police Authority.

Jurors were shown images taken at the flat in Union Terrace where Miss McGraa’s body was found on February 12. They included a picture of a pillow which had red and brown staining on it, as well as pictures of Miss McGraa’s body.

The court was told that on her upper body she was wearing a top and a black coat, but was naked from the waist down, with her right foot resting on a pair of pants. It was also said that there appeared to be blood staining around her nose and cheeks.

Chinda denies all the charges and the trial before Lord Beckett, which is expected to last 10 days, continues.