McCluskie friend comforted brother

Lancashire Telegraph: Gemma McCluskie played Kerry Skinner in EastEnders Gemma McCluskie played Kerry Skinner in EastEnders

A friend of former EastEnders actress Gemma McCluskie has told a jury how she comforted Ms McCluskie's brother, unaware he had dismembered her body days earlier.

Nicole McLaren said she "felt sorry" for Tony McCluskie as they searched for his sister - who played Kerry Skinner, niece of Ethel Skinner, in the BBC soap in 2001 - following her disappearance last March, the Old Bailey heard.

McCluskie, 35, of Pelter Street, Shoreditch, east London, 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 told the court 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.

"Danny said: 'When the F did you last see Gemma?' 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.

She told defence barrister Jeremy Dein QC that she had only seen Miss McCluskie 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 clothes, leading officers to believe she was hoarding items, the court heard.

When Miss McCluskie was reported missing, the defendant told officers he wasn't initially concerned when she failed to return home because he believed she was staying with a friend.

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