THE carers of missing woman Margaret Fleming claim she is alive, a court was told yesterday.

Edward Cairney, 76, and Avril Jones, 58, deny murdering Margaret who was reported missing in October 2016 from her home in Inverkip, Inverclyde.

She has not been seen since December 1999.

The pair are set to stand trial next month.

Yesterday at a pre-trial hearing prosecutor Iain McSporran QC said: “The accused's position is that Margaret Fleming is not dead.

"At least one of the accused claims to have been in telephone contact with her.

“It will be a lengthy trial, much of which will be devoted to the Crown proving that Margaret Fleming is dead.”

The pair are charged with abducting and murdering Ms Fleming and claiming £182,000 in benefits by fraud by pretending that she was alive.

It is alleged that 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 1997 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 1999 and October 2016 they pretended to the Department for Work and Pensions 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.

The trial is expected to last around five to six weeks and there will be around 200 witnesses.

Defence QC Thomas Ross, representing Cairney, said: “This is an exceptional case.

"There is more material than I have ever come across in any other case.”

Neither accused attended the hearing at the High Court in Glasgow.

The case was continued until next Friday when Cairney will appear in court.

Counsel Victoria Dow asked for her client Jones to be excused and this was granted by judge Lord Matthews.