Courts

Thursday 21 August 2014

'I was the last to see my mother alive - but I didn't kill her'

Giving evidence, James Dunleavy repeatedly insists he loved mother Philomena and denies murder

Published 15/01/2014 | 14:47

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Phyllis Dunleavy

A SON accused of chopping up his mum agreed today that he was the last person to see her alive - but denied causing her death, dismembering her and burying her in a shallow grave.

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Giving evidence for just over an hour James Dunleavy, 40, repeatedly insisted he loved mother Philomena, 66, and denied murdering her.

He also told a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh that he did not have mental health problems and claimed doctors had been swayed by the serious charge he was facing.

He told how he believed she would "miraculously" turn up again after she left his Edinburgh flat, without warning, early one morning.

Mother-of-five Mrs Dunleavy from Dublin had been staying with her son in the city's Balgreen Road - just a few minutes walk away from where her remains were found on Corstorphine Hill, a local nature reserve.

Dunleavy - also known as Seamus - backed by his father, retired painter and decorator James, 68, told the trial that Philomena Dunleavy was in the habit of "going walkabout" without saying where she was going.

She had even taken herself off on holidays abroad without warning.

Dunleavy's story began with defence QC Gordon Jackson asking: "Did you do anything that would have caused the death of your mother?"

Dunleavy told the lawyer: "No."

Mr Jackson: "Were you responsible for what happened to her before she got buried?" Again Dunleavy told him: "No".

Mr Jackson said three psychiatrists agreed Dunleavy was suffering from some sort of mental disorder.

"I think the gravity of the crime I am accused of may have coloured their perception," Dunleavy suggested. "They are entitled to their opinion."

The trial heard that after growing up in Dublin, Dunleavy moved to the Coventry and Birmingham area of England in about 1990 where he worked as a labourer on building sites, leaving behind a daughter after a long-term relationship broke up.

He moved to Edinburgh to work on the construction of the city's tram lines. His mum had visited him in Edinburgh on a previous occasion.

Dunleavy denied arguing with his mother just before she is believed to have died, saying a neighbour ho described a row had misinterpreted "a wordy discussion" between them.

"We were just having a bit of banter, that's all," he insisted.

Asked if he was surprised by his mum's sudden departure, Dunleavy said: "That was my mother's MO"

He described making a meal for her the previous evening. "Something curried," he said.

He could not remember whether he used caraway seeds with the lamb. Such seeds were found in his mother's stomach after her body was unearthed last June.

He claimed he had not seen any of the publicity which followed the gruesome find because he didn't read newspapers or watch television.

"I did nothing to my mother. I thought she would miraculously appear again," he said.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC pointed out that when police searched the Balgreen Road flat they found 870 Euros, Mrs Dunleavy's identity card and clothing belonging to her.

They did not find a large suitcase which, it was claimed, had previously been left at the address.

Dunleavy told the court he had thrown out a bed because an incontinent acquaintance who stayed with him had soiled the mattress, but denied setting fire to it.

He also insisted that workmate Matthew Hagan who told the trial that Dunleavy told him he had done "a bad thing" had picked him up wrong because of the noise of the machinery they were using.

James Dunleavy senior said his wife had been badly affected by a stroke and had a long stay in a Dublin hospital.

He said he received a phone call from his son in late April or early May last year.

"James rang me to say she was on her way home, that she would be there that night. But she never returned."

He added: "it was no surprise."

Dunleavy denies battering to death mum Philomena of Marino, Dublin between April 30 and May 7 last year.

He also denies attempting to defeat the ends of justice by trying to cover up the alleged murder and destroy evidence.

At the time, Dunleavy was living in a flat Edinburgh's Balgreen Road.

The murder charge alleges that it was there that he inflicted "blunt force trauma" by means unknown, compressed his mother's throat and cut off her head and legs with a blade and something like a saw.

A second charge accuses Dunleavy of pretending his mum - also known as Phyllis - was unwell and had returned to Ireland.

The charge further alleges that Dunleavy put his mother's torso, severed legs and head into a suitcase and took the dismembered body to Corstorphine Hill where he buried her.

Prosecutors also claim that Dunleavy vacuumed and washed his flat to remove blood stains and torched a bed and mattress.

The jury were sent home early today for lawyers to put legal arguments to judge Lord Jones.

The trial is expected to hear closing speeches tomorrow.

By Ciaran Donnelly

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