Thursday 29 June 2017

'Did you hurt her?' - Murder accused 'broke down in tears' when confronted by his wife

His wife asked him softly: “have you anything to say that you are not saying….did you hurt her?”

Anne Shortall (left) and murder accused Roy Webster (right)
Anne Shortall (left) and murder accused Roy Webster (right)
Accused Roy Webster: Admits manslaughter but denies murder. Photo: Collins Courts

Andrew Phelan

Murder accused Roy Webster broke down in tears in front of gardai and his wife and confessed to killing Anne Shortall, saying: “I hit her with a hammer.”

Mr Webster (39) was sitting around a table in his home with the gardai to discuss Ms Shortall’s disappearance when his wife Sinead asked him softly: “have you anything to say that you are not saying….did you hurt her?”

The Central Criminal Court heard Ms Shortall had been missing for four days and Mr Webster was helping gardai with their enquiries when he made the admission.

His wife dropped to her knees and gasped, the child still in her arms, when Mr Webster then revealed that the body was in his workshop attached to their home.

Detective Sergeant Fergus O’Brien was giving evidence today in the trial of Mr Webster, who has admitted the manslaughter of Ms Shortall but denies her murder.

Mr Webster of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow is charged with murdering Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.

The jury previously heard he beat her to death with a hammer after she threatened to “reveal all” about a sexual encounter they had the previous December.

Det Sgt O’Brien said he was investigating Ms Shortall’s disappearance the previous Friday when he called to Mr Webster’s home on Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

Mr Webster had already given two witness statements in which said he had had a sexual encounter with Ms Shortall, she had contacted him looking to start a relationship and he had declined.

Mr Webster had said in statements he had last seen Ms Shortall briefly on Friday when she was in his van at the Murrough in Wicklow town.

Gardai had seized his van to examine it and Mr Webster asked Det Sgt O’Brien to collect him that day to show where they had been in the van.

Det Sgt O’Brien told the court he pulled into the driveway of Mr Webster’s home and the accused came out with his wife Sinead just behind him, with a small baby in her arms.

Mr Webster said his wife wanted to ask some questions and asked him to come into the house.

Det Sgt O’Brien and Garda Michael Hall went in and Ms Webster was “quite annoyed about what had been happening on social media” and that there had been a picture of Mr Webster in some newspaper and she was wondering how they got the picture.

Det Sgt O’Brien said he was trying to calm Ms Webster down they all sat at a table.

“(Ms Webster) was sitting with the the baby in her arms and she turned to Roy and said 'Roy, have you anything to say that you are not saying?' And he said 'no', and she said 'if you have something to say tell us now'. She spoke softly to him, she said 'did you hurt her?' He hesitated, his head was down, he started to cry,” Det Sgt O’Brien continued.

“He said he did hurt her, I intervened at that stage, I said 'Roy, you need to look at me now, you need to understand. You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so. Anything you do say will be taken down in writing and may be given in evidence.'”

Sgt O’Brien explained the significance of the formal caution to the jury at the request of Paul Greene SC, for the prosecution.

He said Mr Webster answered that he understood the caution.

“Sinead said to him, much more directly and forcefully, 'Did you hit her, Roy?'” Det Sgt O’Brien continued in evidence.

“His head was down and he started to cry and he said 'I did'. I asked him the question then, 'where is she Roy'? And then Sinead said 'with what'? And he said 'I hit her with a hammer'. I said, 'where is she Roy?' And he said 'she is in the workshop'. At that stage, Sinead Webster said 'in our workshop?' And he said 'yes'.

“At that stage, we all went quiet and Sinead fell to her knees and she may have let out a sound like a gasp and she still had her child in her arms at this stage,” Det Sgt O’Brien said. “Roy at that stage started crying uncontrollably, sobbing heavily for a period of time, gulps of crying and then when that ended he started talking profusely.”

Det Sgt O’Brien said he let the accused talk away and when he had finished talking, he asked Detective Garda Hall to go down to the car and get some paper.

When he returned, Det Sgt O’Brien cautioned the accused again.

Det Sgt O’Brien read the accused’s memo of interview out to the court

“She is in my workshop, I hit her with a hammer,” it stated. “ I had her out of the van. She put me under so much pressure, I hit her a couple of blows, a mistake that is after ruining so many lives. I was trying to keep it together for everyone but she had me against the wall. Everything I had worked so hard for. She was just threatening and threatening.

"I got her out and opened the side of the side door. I grabbed the first thing I could and I hit her and pushed her into the van. I am genuinely sorry for putting everybody through that. She just had me against the wall. She was in the van on Friday. I put her into the workshop on Saturday. I had her in a duvet cover.”

There was a period of quiet as they sat around the table, “just saying nothing” and Ms Webster then made a couple of phone calls.

The accused started crying again, “sobbing quietly, talking about his children and his future” and Det Sgt O’Brien said he gave the accused some time to compose himself. Mr Webster’s parents came in and the accused took the baby, bottle-feeding him.

His sister also came in, “screaming” and Mr Webster apologised to his parents, Det Sgt O’Brien continued.

Det Sgt O’Brien called for assistance. Other members of the accused’s family arrived, all distraught, he said.

“I then said to Roy, I want you to take myself and Garda Hall down to the workshop. We went out and walked slowly to the workshop,” he said.

Garda Sergeant Gabriel Power arrived to preserve the scene.

“I asked Roy to come down with us to show us where Anne Shortall was. We walked down to the workshop on a pathway,” he said.

Pointing to a photograph, Det Sgt O’Brien told the jury: “Roy points to the workshop to the right and says she is inside that wall there, go in that door there.”

“So we went down to the workshop and Roy opened the door for us, I said to Roy, you stay here Roy, don’t come in here now. I went into the workshop, it is actually quite a small little area when you walk in. I couldn’t see anything at first. I looked around and I saw these boards and hoarding along the wall… I looked in and when I was looking in I saw a pair of hands and the hands were at the front of a body and they were taped up with silver duct tape. You could see the hands with duct tape on them.

“I called out to Roy, did you tape up her hands, and he said  yes I did,” Det Sgt O’Brien said. “I was satisfied at that stage I was looking at the deceased, the body of Anne Shortall. I went outside and put my hand on Roy’s shoulder and said Roy, I am now arresting you for the murder of Anne Shortall.”

The arrest was made at 2.31 and the accused was brought to Wicklow Garda Station.

This afternoon, CCTV evidence was shown to the jury of Ms Shortall getting into the accused’s van outside the Leitrim Lounge on April 3.

Garda Michael Hall, who had also been in the accused’s home when he made admissions, said it had been a “hugely emotional scene” and the accused was “doing his best to co-operate.”

Garda Louise O’Loughlin of the ballistics section said she examined the accused’s workshop and saw a number of tools with blood-like stains on them including a hammer with a black rubber handle and blue shaft, a tile cutter, a jerry can full of accelerant, tool boxes.

The deceased was lying face-upward on a large sheet of cardboard, Garda O’Loughlin said.

Her hands were bound together around the wrists with silver coloured duct tape and her head was bound with similar tape.

The tape was literally wrapped around her head but also partially covering her face, Gda O’Loughlin said.

She was wearing a black cardigan which partially covered her head and upper body, she had a black slip on type show on her left foot and no shoe or sock on her right.

She had blue denim jeans on that were partially pulled down at the waist. She also wore a black jacket, pink top and a scarf.

A duvet cover or sheet was on the floor and it was also heavily bloodstained. When the body was placed in a body bag, two black pieces of toughened plastic fell from her clothing.

Earlier, Garda Neil Doyle, the first officer to have contact with Mr Webster and the Shortall family in relation to her disappearance, continued his evidence.

He said he phoned Mr Webster and asked him if he had met Ms Shortall at about 3.50pm on Good Friday. He told the accused she had been reported missing by her family.

Garda Doyle said Mr Webster told him Ms Shortall had met him for a few minutes and that she had contacted him out of the blue. He asked how Mr Webster came to know Ms Shortall and he had replied that he had “shifted her months ago” at a Christmas night out at the Bridge pub.

He said Ms Shortall was a bt older than him and it was a “drunken encounter.”

Garda Doyle agreed that when asked if Ms Shortall kept in contact with him since the encounter, he said there had been no contact and the first he heard from her was on April 3 when she asked to meet him for a talk.

They agreed to meet at the Leitrim Lounge and “Anne Shortall proposed that they begin a relationship,” Gda Doyle said the accused had told him.

Mr Webster had said she knew he was married, that he had children and he had said no, he did not want a relationship.

The accused had said Ms Shortall told him she was going to London to meet a friend and she was going to give him a few days to “think about the proposal.”

The last time he saw her, he said, was when she walked across the footbridge. He said the meeting lasted five minutes and Ms Shortall had been wearing a black fluffy jacket and denim jeans.

Gda Doyle asked people at local pubs to keep an eye out for Ms Shortall.

On Saturday morning, he called the Garda National Immigration Bureau and they had no record of Ms Shortall boarding any flights on April 3 or 4.

Cross-examined by Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, Garda Doyle said Anne Shortall’s brother, James Doyle came to Wicklow Garda Station with her daughter Emma Shortall to report her missing on Saturday, April 4.

Emma said it was unusual that her mother had left her cigarettes because she was a “bad chain smoker” and would smoke cigarettes one after the other. Mr Grehan said that would suggest Ms Shortall was going to be gone a short time.

“It was unusual, she said,” Gda Doyle told Mr Grehan.

Emma Shortall had described her mother as being 5’2” with short blond hair in a bob hairstyle. She had said her mother was a heavy drinker and would drink every night but never during the day.

James Doyle said his sister had been dependent on alcohol, was going through a difficult time in her life, was in rent arrears and was on medication for depression, the garda said.

Emma Shortall told him there had been cans of alcohol in the fridge, and given that it had been Good Friday and the pubs were closed, she thought it was strange that her mother had not returned home.

Garda Doyle agreed with Mr Grehan that Ms Shortall’s family had described her as an alcoholic. He said Mr Webster had described the encounter as “just a silly thing.”

Garda Owen Martin said he phoned Mr Webster on April 6 to speak to him as a potential witness.

He came in and made his first statement that day, saying he met Ms Shortall while he was out for Christmas drinks in December 2014.

He said it was late and he had “a good few pints on me”.  “We got talking and ended up kissing,” he said.

In that statement, he did not hear from her until Steven Armstrong told him she was looking for him. He called her and got no answer, he said. He said in the statement Ms Shortall called his house phone on a later date, said “check your facebook page” and hung up.

Mr Webster said she called him again in the middle of the night on his landline and said “you need to ring me.”

He said in his statement he tried to call her again the next day and it rang out, with no voicemail set up to leave a message. He said he then started getting texts saying she wanted to meet up.

“I said I wasn’t interested, I am a married man with two kids,” he told gardai.

He had declined a Facebook friend invitation from her and deleted texts from her in case his wife saw them, he said.

He told gardai she texted “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m pregnant.”

“I replied that was impossible because even though we did have intercourse, because of the amount of alcohol I had that night, I didn’t ejaculate,” he said in his statement.

“She claimed she had done a pregnancy test and I was the father.”

He said he asked to see the test but she would not agree to show him. Mr Webster told gardai he had been in Wicklow Town the previous Thursday, April 2 to attend a meeting of the Masonic Lodge, of which he was a member.

He said he went to meet Ms Shortall outside her apartment and she had a baby in her arms, told him she was pregnant and she was going to London for an abortion.

“I said if you get proof it’s mine, I will go halves with you,” he told gardai in his statement.

He said he arranged to meet her the next day and when she got into his van he asked her had she a test done to prove she was pregnant. He said he told her if she could not prove he was the father he was “not coughing up.”

They chatted for two to three minutes, she got out and walked back toward Wicklow town, he said.

He said that was the last he saw of her and he went in to Centra in Ashford on the way home. Later on, after midnight, he said he got a call from “some girl” asking if her mother was with him.

He presumed it was Ms Shortall’s daughter and said she was not with him, he said. The next day, he told the gardai, James Doyle contacted him and said he was Ms Shortall’s brother.

He said he told Mr Doyle when he last saw Ms Shortall she said she was getting a flight on Friday. He stated he had not given Ms Shortall any money as she had not given him proof he had made her pregnant.

Det Sgt O’Brien said he took a second witness statement from the accused later that day, April 6.

He said Mr Webster told gardai that when he met Ms Shortall, “she said she was going to go across to London to get the job done.”

“She was basically looking for money to get the job done,” he stated. “I said if you are looking for money I want to see a test, by that I mean a pregnancy test.”

When he picked her up on April 3, he said he told her: “if I don’t see a test I’m not coughing up” and that she said “I’ll sort it myself, don’t worry about it.”

He said she was not in bad form and was calm when she got out of the van. Mr Webster told gardai in the second statement that when he got home, his wife was there with a friend. He said he stayed home for the night and got a call about midnight when he was asleep on the couch.

A girl called asking if her mother was with him and he said to himself “that is someone taking the mickey.”

He got a text asking “Is my Ma with you, if she is just let me know.” He said he told his wife and she told him not to reply.

Mr Webster told gardai the next day James Doyle contacted him and texted “ring me back or I’m going to the gardai.”

He said when he called Mr Doyle said he was at the garda station making a missing person report and hung up.

“I had a fling with her once at Christmas, by this I mean had a sexual encounter with her,” Mr Webster told gardai in his second statement.

Mr Webster agreed to let gardai take possession of his van.

Det Sgt O’Brien said Mr Webster called him later to ask about his van and about the search.

He told Det Sgt O’Brien he had “told his wife everything.”

He said Ms Shortall had looked for €6,500 off him for an abortion and he said he was not going to give her anything,” Det Sgt O’Brien told the court.

He said Mr Webster told him on the phone that the first time she had looked for money was on the Thursday. He said his wife had calculated that after having sex on December 20, Ms Shortall was “15 weeks gone and an abortion at that stage should only cost €700 plus flights.”

Mr Webster had said there was tension at home. He asked if Ms Shortall’s medical history had been checked out and if she was a “self harmer.”

Mr Webster said he was “worried,” Det Sgt O’Brien said.

In cross-examination, he agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, that Mr Webster's wife had a diabetic "fit" after the accused made his admission and injected herself with insulin.

The court heard Garda Hall had made tea for everyone and it was a "highly charged emotional situation."

Det Sgt O'Brien agreed that Mr Webster had no prior convictions and was "somebody of impeccable character" prior to this.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and a jury of four women and seven men on Monday.

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