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Monday 22 September 2014

Harrowing twists for family waiting 13 days to bring 'beautiful angel' home

Published 24/05/2014 | 02:30

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Gardai at the scene where Aoife Phelan’s body was found. Photo: Mark Condren

RAIN-splattered floral tributes placed near the pit just after Aoife Phelan's battered body was found, read: "For two beautiful angels".

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Some time before the nanny vanished on October 25, 2012, she had told family and friends that she was four months pregnant.

Later it was to emerge – after her traumatised mother, Betty, and father, Michael, went to identify their battered daughter, whose beautiful face was now "black and blue" – that she had not been pregnant.

It was just one of the harrowing twists endured by the Phelan family, including her five brothers and six sisters, in their lengthy search to bring the nanny home.

Initially, her disappearance was treated as a missing persons search. But behind the scenes gardai were working diligently to piece together her final movements.

It was to be 13 days before her body was finally discovered 10ft down in a gravel-filled pit, doubled over in a barrel, in the backyard of the homeplace of Robert Corbet (25), whom Ms Phelan had a brief relationship with.

In the meantime, gardai and family members had trawled rivers and a man-made lake for any trace of her and held candlelit vigils.

And, as all of this was taking place, senior officers examined phone records and moved to contact Corbet in New York where he had gone to see an ex-girlfriend a day after Aoife's disappearance.

Over the long-distance phone contact Corbet denied any involvement in Ms Phelan's disappearance.

It was 11 days into the enquiry that gardai moved to upgrade the search to a murder investigation as they arrested the recently-returned Corbet. Yet, even at this point, the trauma for the family continued as Corbet told officers he had killed her in his jeep and dumped her body into the River Barrow.

He finally told the truth after a detective noticed the recently disturbed earth at the back of Corbet's homeplace.

They excavated it and discovered her body buried in a barrel.

He'd told them not to burst the barrel at the bottom as it was full of oil and he didn't want to contaminate the area.

As the judge moved to impose the mandatory life sentence on Corbet, it emerged he had no previous convictions. Neighbours described him as being "well- respected".

And as the garda probe finally wound to a close, Corbet was led off to serve life behind bars.

Irish Independent

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