Friday 19 December 2014

Man found guilty of beheading and dismembering his own mother

Published 17/01/2014 | 16:09

James Dunleavy
Phyllis Dunleavy

ANGUISHED relatives today watched as a jury convicted a son of beheading and dismembering his mother and burying her in a shallow grave.

An eight day trial heard harrowing evidence suggesting that Philomena Dunleavy, 66, may still have been alive, but unconscious, when her killer began to hack off her legs with knife and saw.

But the horror of her final moments at the hands of her deranged son James Dunleavy, 40, will probably never be known.

Mother-of-five Mrs Dunleavy, small, slightly built and shy had left her Dublin home in early April last year and arrived in Scotland on April 24 to visit her eldest son James - also known as Seamus.

Prosecutors alleged that, days later she was dead - butchered in labourer James Dunleavy's flat in Balgreen Road, Edinburgh.

Medics could not tell how she died and injuries to her head, smashed ribs and damage to small bones in her neck - often linked to strangulation - could have been sustained after her death.

Advocate depute Alex Prentie QC, prosecuting, warned the jury that "loose ends" and unanswered questions would remain.

It was more than a month before Mrs Dunleavy's remains were unearthed, just a few minutes walk away from her son's address. A large suitcase was missing from the flat and a spade with a broken shaft was found in the back green.

Dunleavy, 40, denied murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice by burying her to try to cover up the crime.

A jury at the High Court in Edinburgh convicted him, by majority, of a reduced charge of culpable homicide. They also found him guilty of the attempted cover-up.

Mrs Dunleavy's 68-year-old husband, also James, kept a dignified silence as the eight women and seven man reported their decision. So did brother Austin, 27, who is close to completing a football scholarship, studying history in the USA.

Seamus Dunleavy, sitting in the dock, stared straight ahead, betraying no emotion.

As they left the High Court in Edinburgh, Mr Dunleavy senior simply said: "I will not be making any statements."

The Dunleavy family are no strangers to tragedy. Terence Dunleavy, 27, a brother of the accused, was gunned down during a drug feud in Dublin in April 2005. Another sister had also died

His mum's visit to Edinburgh last year meant she had missed the family's annual commemoration of his death.

The trial heard that after Mrs Dunleavy's body was found the family refused to help police investigating her death.

No witnesses saw Mrs Dunleavy's final journey in a suitcase. No witnesses saw the undignified shallow grave being dug - a back breaking task in the hard soil of Corstorphine Hill

There Mrs Dunleavy remained until ski instructor Aaron McLean-Foreman, 24, stopped to sunbathe while pushing his bike along a narrow path on a warm June afternoon.

He was confronted by the decomposed face of Mrs Dunleavy staring up from the dirt, his gaze drawn by her gleaming teeth.

The following day, June 7, archeologist Dr Jennifer Miller, other forensic and medical experts began the painstaking work of unearthing the near-naked torso, severed head and legs.

The body had been buried facing East in what might have been an attempt at a Christian burial, said Mr Miller.

Police launched Operation Sandpiper, appealing for help to identify the body. At first the expensive cosmetic dentistry, carried out in Hungary, led them to consider the possibility of a migrant worker from Eastern Europe.

Mrs Dunleavy's claddagh ring took the search to Ireland.

CT scans of Mrs Dunleavy's skull, combined with computer technology, enabled Dundee University's craniofacial expert Dr Caroline Wilkinson to produce a likeness of the dead woman.

The trial heard that Mrs Dunleavy, who suffered from a number of medical problems and had been badly affected by a stroke had a habit of wandering without telling anyone where she was going.

But by early July her family in Dublin were begining to wonder where she was. Dunleavy had phoned on May 2 to say she was on her way home, but his mum had, apparently, never arrived.

A call was made to police in Edinburgh, followed by a call on July 3 from Dunleavy himself. Police visited him the following day.

Four days later he was charged with her murder.

Until then Dunleavy's criminal record amounted to only a few minor convictions for disorder in Ireland and elsewhere.

Police heard about a shouting match between Dunleavy and his mother about her supposed affair with another man.

She was said to have walked out on retired painter James Dunleavy, 68 - although he insisted they were still man and wife.

Shop-keeper Mohammed Razaq, 40, known as Tariq, witnesses the argument. He also told the trial that Dunleavy - who had been showing a keen interest in Islam - had described "hearing voices" and told his friend: "I might be evil."

Two months after his arrest Dunleavy's legal team arranged for his transfer from prison to the State Hospital, Carstairs.

Three psychiatrists told the trial that Dunleavy clearly had a problems - although it was too early to say exactly what it was.

Paranoid schizophrenia was suggested as a possibility.

Dunleavy, giving evidence, insisted the doctors were wrong..

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

He said his mum had left his flat without warning and he expected her to re-appear "miraculously."

Two damning snippets of evidence came from Carole Ross, 50, who said Mrs Dunleavy had come into Edinburgh's Portobello Police Station where she was working asking for a cheap room.

She said she did not want to be with her son because he was having "an episode."

And Matthew Hagan, 26, who worked alongside Dunleavy on Edinburgh's tram project, told how his workmate told him, just days before his arrest: "I have done something bad, brother."

Judge Lord Jones ordered Dunleavy to remain in the State Hospital, Carstairs, while psychiatrists continue to assess his condition.

He is due back in court in April for the judge to decide the next move.

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