Sunday 25 June 2017

Murder accused appeared 'completely normal' after beating mum-of-three - court hears

Roy Webster and Anne Shortall
Roy Webster and Anne Shortall

Andrew Phelan

MURDER accused Roy Webster appeared “completely normal” when he returned home after fatally beating Anne Shortall with a hammer, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

His wife’s friend told gardai he had talked with his wife about picking up a children’s book for their daughter when he came in wearing dusty workclothes and with a small cut on his arm.

The friend’s statement was read into evidence at the murder trial today.

The jury also heard the accused was of “impeccable character” before he killed Ms Shortall.

Detective Sgt Fergus O’Brien agreed with a defence lawyer that the case had taken a toll on the accused and his family, as well as Ms Shortall’s family.

Mr Webster (40), a married father-of-two, from Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow denies murdering Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter but that plea was not accepted by the prosecution.

The jury has been told he hit her with a claw hammer after he she blackmailed him by threatening to “reveal all” about a one-night stand they had.

He said he struck her about the head when she made the threat after she said she was pregnant and asked him to pay STG £6,500 for an abortion.

He then wrapped duct tape around her head and wrists and drove her in his van to his home, where he hid her body in his workshop.

In a statement read out to the court by Paul Greene SC, for the prosecution, Carmel Phibbs said she was friends with Sinead Webster and her husband.

On April 3, she drove to their house with her seven year old daughter at about 1pm. Her daughter played with the Websters’ four-year-old daughter and they stayed there all afternoon. Roy Webster arrived home between 4.30pm and 5pm, wearing dusty workclothes and a dusty sleeveless body-warmer.

“He was acting completely normal,” she said in her statement.

There was some conversation between Mr Webster and his wife about collecting a book for their daughter in Wicklow Town, as well as a cut he had on one arm, near his elbow.

Ms Phibbs saw this and said it was “only a sliver.”

He said he had cut it on a sharp tile. Ms Phibbs left shortly after and was at the house again on April 6. She arrived at around 10.30am and Sinead Webster drove her and their two daughters to the cinema in Arklow.

Mr Webster was not there at the time, having left the house with the baby. He returned some time in the afternoon, she said in her statement.

They knew he had been at the garda station, that there was a woman missing and he was helping gardai with their enquiries.

Ms Shortall’s electricity bill was then handed into court as an exhibit. The jury had heard she had a debt of €2,222. The bill from Electric Ireland was dated February 19, 2015.

Telecom liaison officer Garda David Hamblyn gave evidence of records of contacts between Ms Shortall and Mr Webster’s phones between March 8 and April 8, 2015.

No content from text messages were retrieved apart from the final ones.

The first contact was a 34-second call from Ms Shortall’s mobile phone to the accused’s landline at 3.26am on March 25.

Later the same morning, Mr Webster’s mobile phone attempted to call Ms  Shortall’s at 9.40am, then again three times that afternoon. None of these calls connected.

Later that day, there was a series of texts between the two phones, starting at 4.10pm, with a text from Ms Shortall’s phone to Mr Webster’s

Contact continued on April 1, 2 and 3.

On April 3, Mr Webster’s phone sent two texts to Ms Shortall’s at 3.31 and 3.38pm.

There was a call of zero seconds duration to her phone at 3.41pm. At 3.42pm, Mr Webster’s phone sent a text to Ms Shortall’s with corrupted content recovered.

Ms Shortall’s phone texted his at 3.43 with no content retrieved.

At 3.47pm, Mr Webster’s phone texted “outside the Leitrim?”

The reply from Ms Shortall’s phone at 3.48pm was “on way.”

There was no further activity on her phone until her daughter Emma tried to call it at 5.02pm.

The accused’s phone next connected to his wife’s at 4.43pm, the call lasting two minutes.

The next morning at 12.09am, there was a call from Ms Shortall’s phone to the accused’s, lasting 44 seconds. The jury heard this was when Ms Shortall’s daughter Emma had phoned and made contact with the accused.

Mr Webster’s home phone number had been saved under the name “Roy” on Ms Shortall’s phone and his mobile number had been saved “Ashwood.”

Her number had been saved on his mobile phone under “A”.

The jury heard of a number of Google searches that had been made on Ms Shortall’s phone on March 30, 2015.

These included “Ashwood kitchens”, “how much does it cost for an Irish woman to go to England to have an abortion”, and reproductive choice websites including Choice Ireland.

Cross-examined by Edmund Sweetman BL, for the defence, Garda Hamblyn agreed that it was clear “almost everybody was deleting messages as they went along.”

Earlier, Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence concluded cross-examination of Detective Sergeant Fergus O’Brien.

Mr Grehan asked if it would be fair to categorise the accused’s dealings with the gardai as co-operative and “trying to do his best.”

Det Sgt O’Brien agreed, also agreeing that the accused was “someone who would have been of impeccable character before this.”

The jury heard Mr Webster had chosen not to seek bail at any stage,

“Apart from the terrible matter that has been visited on the Shortall family… this has certainly taken a toll on Mr Webster and his own family, his wife and children,” Mr Grehan said.

“Absolutely, yes,” Det Sgt O’Brien replied.

This afternoon, Detective Garda Michael Hall gave additional evidence about the memo of interview taken from the accused around the kitchen table of his home on April 7, 2015.

In the memo, the accused had said “I opened the side door, I grabbed the first thing I could and I hit her. I pushed her into the van.”

After the interview was completed, the accused was asked to re-read it and made the following addition: “I don’t recall pushing her into the van, it was more that she fell back into the van when I hit her first.”

In cross-examination, Mr Grehan said the information had come “gushing out of Mr Webster in answer to prompting by his wife Sinead in particular.”

Det Gda Hall agreed that the statement was read over to the accused “in very emotional circumstances for all involved, including Mr Webster.”

“It was a hugely emotional scene,” Det Gda Hall replied.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the jury the prosecution evidence was expected to conclude on Monday.

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