Tuesday 25 July 2017

Murder accused had a 'pyjama day' at home with family, as body of victim lay in his shed two days after he beat her to death, court hears

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

Anne Shortall was not pregnant at the time she was beaten to death by murder accused Roy Webster, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

When gardai told Mr Webster this, he replied: “I f***ing knew it.”

Detectives put it to him in interview that this had been determined in a post mortem examination carried out on Ms Shortall’s body by the State Pathologist.

The jury in his trial  was being read a transcript today of Mr Webster’s garda interviews, carried out after he was arrested on suspicion of murdering Ms Shortall.

Anne Shortall who was beaten to death with a hammer
Anne Shortall who was beaten to death with a hammer

In the interviews, Mr Webster said he hit Ms Shortall three to four times on the head and felt like he was having an out-of-body experience or “watching a horror movie.”

Mr Webster (39), a father-of-two, from Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow denies murdering Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.

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

The jury has been told he beat the mother-of-three to death with a hammer after she threatened to “reveal all” about a sexual encounter they had.

According to the prosecution, he struck her about the head when she made the threat after saying she was pregnant and asked him to pay for an abortion.

Mr Webster (47), a cabinet maker, tied her up with duct tape after the assault and drove her to his home, leaving her body in his workstation in a shed while he spent the weekend with his family.

Detective Garda Fergus O’Brien said today the accused was interviewed after his arrest at Wicklow Garda Station.

The interview was carried out at 5.41pm on April 7 by Det Sgt O’Brien and Detective Garda Owen Martin, in the presence of the accused’s solicitor Dermot Hickey.

Mr Webster told gardai he was on job-seeker’s allowance because work had dried up and his cash flow was “very tight.”

He had a “big mortgage” on the family home and a second house in Gorey was in negative equity, he said.

His daughter was four years old and he and his wife had a six-week-old newborn son.

Mr Webster said he had met Ms Shortall a number of years ago in the Old Bridge pub. He said he would have only known her to see then and would not have known her name. He said he had only found out her first name five to six months earlier.

Any time he got to be out, she would be out, he said. He got to know her but there was “nothing flirty - just a quick hello.”

On December 20, he said, he was out with his best friend Robert Fox and Mr Fox’s apprentice Jamie Shortt. In the Forge pub, he was “dancing and drinking and messing” and later he met Ms Shortall.

They got talking and in the conversation they each said “I fancied you.”

Things got “flirty” and they “ended up having a kiss there,” he said in the interview.

His friend came over to see “what I was at” and said they had a taxi booked. Mr Webster told his friend to go on and he ended up going back to Ms Shortall’s apartment.

“We started kissing again and one thing led to another and she said let’s go upstairs,” Mr Webster told gardai. “I said I shouldn’t be doing this, I am married with one kid and a child on the way.”

However, he said, “we went up anyway and had sex, we had sexual intercourse.”

Asked about the possibility of her getting pregnant, he told gardai: “No because when I have sexual intercourseafter a lot of drink I am unable to ejaculate.”

He said they both fell asleeep and the next morning he was awoken by a call from his friend saying that his wife had been looking for him.

Mr Webster said to gardai he got a taxi back home. He met his wife at the front door and “she wasn’t happy”.

“I just went to the back bedroom and fell asleep,” he said.

The next day, she asked him where he had been and who he had been with until that time and he told her it was a work colleague he had known for years.

The next time he heard from Ms Shortall was two weeks into January, when she sent him a Facebook friend and he rejected it straight away because “as far as I was concerned it was a one-night stand.”

He later got a phone call from Steven Armstrong, his cousin, who said Ms Shortall had been looking to get in contact with him.

“He asked me jokingly had I been a bold boy… I said I might have been,” he said in interview.

Mr Armstrong gave him Ms Shortall’s number and the accused thought before ringing “is this one looking for round two?”

It rang out and there was no voicemail and he though she had not wanted to get in touch with him that badly.

After the birth of his son, she rang his landline while he was up doing the night feed, he said.

She said it was Anne and told him “check your Facebook page.”

The next morning he did check it but could not see anything from her. He thought she “must be just coming in drunk from the pub and just looking to hook up. I thought she must be just putting in the booty call.”

She rang him again in the middle of the night a couple of nights later, then texted: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I am pregant.”

He said he replied: “I hope you are joking” and she texted back: “I wish I was joking”. He said he would call her the following day but did not.

A few days later she texted “we need to meet” and he said he would meet at her apartment the next day.

On April 2, he met Ms Shortall outside her apartment, his statement continued. He questioned her about the pregnancy and she told him “it was definitely me” because she had not been with anyone else since her husband years ago.

She said she had borrowed money from her sister  and flights were booked to go to London to “get the job done.” He understood this to mean an abortion, he continued in his statement.

He said she told him this would cost STG£6,500.

He said he told her if she could prove she was pregnant he would “see what I can do.” He said “I don’t have that sort of money but I could ask friends if I had more time.”

Mr Webster said in his statement Ms Shortall replied that she had her mind made up.

“I felt as if the pressure was on,” he told gardai “I said if you give me until tomorrow I will see what I can do.”

On Friday, April 3, he said, he picked up a book for his daughter and texted Ms Shortall that he would meet her at the Leitrim pub in 10 minutes.

He said he saw her cross a pedestrian bridge before getting into his van. They drove down to the Murrough and there was a “good bit of activity” at the playground so they decided to go a bit further on to be discreet because his name as on his van.

She was not saying much at first, so he asked “had she any tests done for me”, meaning pregnancy tests, and she said she hadn’t.

“She said she was already pregnant and didn’t feel she had to prove it to me again,” he said.

He said he asked her what the point of meeting had been and she said “so you don’t even have the money with you now” and started shouting.

He told gardai she got out of the van and said: “don’t you f***ing worry about it, I’ll sort it out myself.”

He said he got out to reason with her and she started to “really go off threatening “if I didn’t cough up she was going to start ringing my wife and ringing my house.”

“At that point I was thinking to myself ‘this can’t be happening’”, he said, adding that she “kept going on and on and that she knew where I was living and she was going to blow the lid if I didn’t get her money.”

“So there was a bit of me pleading with her, ‘please don’t, please don’t’, I said ‘I have a wife and child and a newborn baby at home, please don’t ruin that for me'," he told gardai.

He said she replied: “I don’t give a s**t.”

“I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” he said.

His head was spinning and he could “just see my whole world crashing down - this one had my back to the wall.”

“I swung open the side door of the van, and I grabbed the first thing beside me, which was the hammer. I hit her in the middle of the forehead,” he said in his interview.

He hit her “a belt to the head” and she said “you f***ing pr**k, I’ll ruin you.”

“It was like I was looking down at myself… it was like I was looking down at someone else doing it, but I could see it was me doing it. It was like watching a horror movie.”

He said there was “blood pouring out of her head… I couldn’t believe how much. I have never seen so much blood.”

He told gardai Ms Shortall was “propped up” in the van saying “I will ruin you” so he hit her again.

“I would say I hit her three to four times, I couldn’t be sure,” he continued.

The court heard the blood pooled under Ms Shortall’s head.

Mr Webster told gardai he closed the van door and drove on, he said. He cleaned his hands with white spirits.

Asked by gardai if he had felt any hatred or rage, he replied: “I was scared I was petrified after what I did.”

“It was like I had my back against a wall and I had nowhere else to go,” he said.

He drove on to Ashford village and it was like he was on “autopilot” when he pulled into Centra, he continued in his statement.

“She was in the back of the van at this stage, she wasn’t talking or moving,” he said.

He told gardai he taped Ms Shortall’s head first as there as blood coming out of it and he “thought the tape might stop the blood.”

“I also put tape on hr hands to stop her flailing around,” he said.

“I suppose subconsciously I didn’t know whether she was dead or alive… it was like I was out of my mind.”

He said it was not his intention to kill her, saying “I suppose it was a panic reaction, I suppose it was a mixture of fear and panic.”

“In hindsight, I had reached snapping point,” he said.

Asked if it was like he had an out of body experience, he said: “That is exactly what it was like, it was as if I was looking down at myself doing it.”

He felt he was “back to himself “ by the time he got to Centra. He pulled up in the usual spot at home, and “Anne’s body was in the van,” his statement continued.

He took out his thermos, went into the house and had a cup of coffee. It was “as if everything was back to normal, I was back to myself, it was like a switch turned off.”

It was like he had “blanked it” and went back into his routine - he “played with the young one, fed the baby” watched TV later and might have had a glass of wine before falling asleep on the couch.

Asked if he thought there would be “sh*t” over what happened, he told gardai: “not that night, it was like I blanked it.”

The next morning, they went to Arklow to do some baby shopping and Ms Shortall’s body was still in the van. When they got back at around 4pm, he went to his workshop where there was lots of wood which he thought would do to chop for firewood.

“Anne was still in the van. I thought, Jesus I am going to have to take her out,” he said.

He lifted her out and put her in the workshop.

“She was sort of stiff at that stage, I couldn’t believe she had got stiff already,” he said. He told gardai he had never seen a dead body like that before, he had only seen dead relations or friends in coffins.”

The second interview at Wicklow Garda Station was carried out at 1.50pm on April 8, 2015.

In it, Mr Webster said in relation to the cost of an abortion,  “since I fessed up to my wife” he researched it on the internet and it should have been about €500.

He was shown a photo of a hammer handle in the side panel of his van and said it “looks like the handle of the hammer I used.”

He said he had not used a lump hammer and could not be sure which hammer he used but as far as he could remember he threw it into the back of the van.

It was a claw hammer, he said.

On the Sunday, he said, he stayed in and had a “pyjama day,” watching movies with his kids.

Asked what he had planned to do with the body, he said: “I had no idea.”

He was then asked why he had brought the body home. He said it was just “natural instinct to come home."

He was asked if he had thought Ms Shortall might have been alive in the back of the van.

“Possibly, yes” he replied.  “That is why I put the tape on her hands.”

He was asked if it had been his intention to kill her.

“No, not at all,” he said.

He was then asked if he was watching her house, and again said: “no, not at all.”

The gardai asked what he thought Ms Shortall’s reaction was going to be when he told her he had no money.

“I didn’t know what her reaction might be, I just wanted proof she was pregnant and then I would get her money,” he said.

It was put to him that he never intended giving her money and he intended to kill her.

“No, that never crossed my mind,” he said. “I am not that type of person, it never crossed my mind, I wasn’t brought up that way.”

He said “I don’t know why I put the tape around her hands because she wasn’t flailing around.”

Mr Webster told gardai he texted Ms Shortall while he was in the bookshop as far as he could recall.

Asked to account for an hour and a half in the sequence of events, he told gardai: “I don’t know anything about that hour and a half.”

Referring to CCTV footage, one of the gardai said: “It would look from this stage that you were following her, that is what it looks like.”

“I know that is the way it looks, but that is not what happened, I was not following her,” Mr Webster replied.

It was put to him that his account of walking from the bookshop and getting into the van at Bachelor’s Walk “doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Mr Webster replied that he may have walked up around the town.

“The reason you gave a different account is because you had a different account,” it was put to him by one of the gardai.

“Definitely not,” he replied.

The gardai said the post mortem had been completed and “she was not pregnant”.

“I f**king knew it,” Mr Webster replied.

He was told the post mortem also showed Ms Shortall had wounds on her hands suggesting she may have been alive, fighting back or defending herself.

“Yeah, she might have put up her hands at some stage, I was in a haze, I can’t recall if she did or didn’t,” he replied.

He was asked if that was why he put tape on her hands - to stop her defending herself.

“As far as I can recall, I had finished hitting her at that stage,” he said.

Asked if calling an ambulance would not have been the right thing to do, he said: “I wasn’t thinking.”

It was put to him he knew that Ms Shortall was going to die in the van that day.

“I’m not a doctor, I wouldn’t know how much blood you have to lose,” he said.

He was asked if he could have hit her nine times.

“I wouldn’t have thought I did it that many times,” he replied.

He denied holding her down while hitting her when it was put to him  that she had bruises around her neck.

Injuries were read out to the accused, including “left cheek broken” and “nine blows to the head, including the forehead.”

“That would be the first hit,” he said.

There was a major laceration behind the  right ear and the left ear was split. She had no skull fractures.

“All for nothing, wasn’t it Roy?” he was asked.

“Blackmail,” he replied.

“Did you kill her because she was pregnant?” he was asked to which he replied: “no.”

“I hit her because she was threatening my family and my livelihood,” he said.

“Looking back now, after it was done, I know I was wrong.”

He was asked if he went down to a quiet area  “to kill her, to shut her up?”

“No, I only went down there to be discreet,” he said, adding that his name was on his van.

Mr Webster said if he had been holding Ms Shortall down with one hand and hitting her with a hammer “surely I would have had scratches on me.”

He was told by gardai Ms Shortall had died of blunt force trauma to the head.

“I have heard of that one on CSI,” he replied. “So she bled from inside her head.”

The trial continues.

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