A friend of former EastEnders actress Gemma McCluskie told a jury today 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 in the days following her disappearance in March last year, the Old Bailey heard.
Gemma McCluskie played Kerry Skinner in EastEnders
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, a neighbour who had known Miss McCluskie since childhood, told the court that 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."
Artist's sketch: Tony McCluskie
Ms McLaren told the court 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.
Ms McLaren 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 piles of clothes, leading officers to believe she was hoarding items, the court heard.
Tony McCluskie led police on a 'wild goose chase'
When Miss McCluskie was reported missing to police, the defendant told officers he was not initially concerned when she failed to return home because he believed she was staying with a friend.
Miss McCluskie played Kerry Skinner, the niece of Ethel Skinner, in the BBC soap in 2001.
Her torso was discovered on March 6th and over the next fortnight, her arms and legs were recovered separately from the water.
Her head, which had been dumped in the canal at the same time, was not found until September.
Police discovered that a man with a heavy suitcase matching McCluskie's description had taken a minicab to the canal the day after his sister disappeared.
Blood was found in the boot of the car and McCluskie's father and brother "no doubt with heavy hearts" said they recognised him from CCTV. The case continues.
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