Murder accused 'lied to worried daughters' of victim after she disappeared
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Murder accused Roy Webster lied to Anne Shortall’s worried daughters about his meeting with her on the day she died and told gardai she had called him out of the blue after he “shifted her months ago”, the Central Criminal Court has heard.
Mr Webster repeatedly lied after Ms Shortall’s daughters contacted him on finding a text exchange between the pair in which they were arranging to meet that day.
The jury was told he first said one daughter had the “wrong number” and told another her mother was going to London to meet a friend.
The jury heard continued evidence for the prosecution in the trial this afternoon.
Mr Webster (39) of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.
He has pleaded guilty to her manslaughter. The jury previously heard he beat her to death with a hammer after she threatened to “reveal all” about a sexual encounter they had the previous December.
Emma Shortall (22) said this afternoon her parents had been separated for about eight years and had become more civil to each other when their grandchildren were born.
The loss of the family home through repossession “took a bit of a toll” on her mother, who suffered from depression and had been on anti-depressants for a number of years.
Her mother had not worked for a while but babysat her grandchildren.
She “did not mind” getting divorce papers from her husband Colin and knew they were on the way, she said.
If she went out, she would always take her cigarettes and her mobile phone, but she had left her phone charging and a full box of Marlborough Lights that day. Emma Shortall went to work on the morning of April 3, getting home at around 2pm.
She said her mother was asleep in bed, seemed “fine” and they had a “chit chat.”
At around 3.50pm, she heard the door bang and thought her mother had gone out to the shop. Later, she went out herself and texted her mother that she had left the window open but there was no reply.
She went to a friend’s house, returning at 12.30am on April 4. Her mother was still not there. Her sister Alanna had already been at the apartment and told her about a message on their mother’s phone saying “I’m at the Leitrim” and a number with the name “Ashwood.”
When she rang the phone it went to voicemail and the name was Roy Webster.
She called it again and a man answered.
“I asked him had he seen my mother because there was a text saying he was going to meet her, he said you have the wrong number, he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about,” Emma Shortall told the court.
She texted him asking “had he seen my mum, that his number was on her phone and he was texting her saying she was meeting him.”
“It wasn’t like her not to tell me where she was or what she was doing,” Ms Shortall said.
The next morning, she went straight into the bedroom and her mother still was not there.
Her sister Alanna later got in touch with their aunt and uncle and they went to the gardai. Ms Shortall said her mother would only have had about €50 with her.
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Asked in cross-examination if her mother drank a lot, she told Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence that her mother was a “social drinker” and “a bit of a night owl.” She would go out to the pub any evening she was not babysitting her grandchildren.
Alanna Shortall (19) said her mother was supposed to take her son for a sleepover on the night of April 3. She could not contact her and went to the apartment at about 4.40pm. Her mother’s phone was charging under a pillow and she checked and saw a message from Ashwood Kitchens.
The message said “meet at the Leitrim” and her mother had replied: “on way.”
She called and it went straight to messages so she saved the number to her own phone and drove past the Leitrim Lounge before realising it was closed. At her boyfriend’s house the next morning, she texted the Ashwood number saying she had got the number on her mother’s phone but there was no reply.
She texted saying: “If you don’t reply to me, I am going to bring your contact number to the gardai.”
She told the court he replied: “All I know is she is going to meet a friend in London. As far as I know she was flying out at about seven tonight.
“He was meant to have dropped her to the airport,” she added.
In cross-examination, she agreed her mother had been drinking heavily since her marriage broke up.
Both daughters said they were not aware of their mother’s financial difficulties - her rent arrears or a notice of eviction she had received.
Garda Neil Doyle said he was station orderly at Wicklow Garda Station when James Doyle came in and reported his sister missing.
Emma Shortall told him about contacting Roy Webster and a conversation they had in which she said the accused told her he had not told the truth because he had been sitting with his wife at the time. Emma Shortall said he told her he had only met her mother briefly and did not know where she was.
Garda Doyle phoned the accused at 5.30pm who told him he did briefly meet Anne Shortall at the Leitrim Lounge for a few minutes, and she was “talking about going to London to meet a friend.”
“I asked him how he had met her and he said in his words he had shifted her months ago and she wanted to meet up for a relationship,” Garda Doyle said.
Earlier, Mary Broe, a rental agent for Ms Shortall’s landlord, said the deceased had been in receipt of rent allowance for her apartment on the South Quay in Wicklow, where her two daughters initially lived with her from 2013.
Her rent allowance was reduced in the middle of 2014 by €200, so the balance went up.
She fell into rent arrears but paid these in July of 2014, then fell back into arrears.
Ms Broe was in contact on a monthly or weekly basis to put pressure on her but payments were sporadic, the court heard. Ms Shortall did not respond to texts warning her that she was going to lose her home and the last payment was received on January 24, 2015.
On February 24, Ms Broe wrote to her serving notice of eviction, with arrears standing at €1,840 by then.
The final notice was served on March 11, stating that Ms Shortall was to vacate the premises by April 9.
On April 2, she got a text from Ms Shortall asking what the arrears were and saying that she would drop the money over.
Ms Broe responded that the property was to be vacated on Thursday April 9 as per the final notice.
Ms Shortall responded: “I ain’t going anywhere. I have got the money for the arrears and a few months rent.”
Ms Broe texted that she would see her the following Tuesday and Ms Shortall’s last message read: “OK, I have arrears and at least six months rent, I will pay on Tuesday.”
Ms Broe said this would have amounted to a little over €5,000.
Colin Shortall, the deceased’s former husband, said they had married in August 1992, but had separated and were living apart for the last eight years.
The birth of their grandchildren led to more contact between them. Mr Shortall initiated the formal divorce process by serving papers in March 2015.
This was agreed between them, he said. He had been “scrupulous” with maintenance payments for the children over the years until they had their own means.
In cross-examination, he told Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, the family home had been mortgaged and he “kept his end of the bargain” until he was called to court on a repossession order and found out his wife had not been paying her share.
The house was repossessed.
Asked if Ms Shortall had had a drink problem, he told Mr Grehan: “I wouldn’t know to be honest.”
Asked how his wife had reacted to being served with divorce papers, she said she told him: “It’s about time.”
They had no assets and there was nothing to divide up between them.
Hilary Hamilton, owner of Bridge Street Books in Wicklow said Mr Webster came in on April 3 to pick up a book he had ordered for his daughter, Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy. He was there at 2.23pm and she described him as “a normal guy, nothing out of the ordinary".
Aileen Geoghan told the court she hired Mr Webster to do a kitchen revamp at her home. He arrived at 9.30am on April 3 to complete the job. Ms Geoghegan had paid him half the rate on an account and there was an outstanding sum of €2,900.
It was agreed that it would be discharged when he finished, but it transpired that that was a bank holiday and it was not possible for the matter to be settled.
“Unfortunately I hadn’t realised, and neither had Mr Webster, that it was a bank holiday and suddenly I realised I couldn’t go to the bank and get any money out,” she said.
He left around 1.25pm when the work was finished.
She did not discern any concern on his part about not being paid, she agreed, and she later invited him to return on Tuesday when she would be able to.
Ms Geoghan said Mr Webster was an “excellent worker, a very talented man”.
Robert Fox gave evidence of the Christmas night out he had been on with Mr Webster on December 20, 2014.
In the Forge pub, he said, he saw the accused “with a woman the same height as himself, he was giving her a hug.”
He thought the woman’s hair was blonde. He later called him and Mr Webster told him he was “going to a party or something".
The next day, Mr Fox became aware that Mr Webster’s wife Sinead had been in touch with his own wife.
He heard Mr Webster did not come home so Mr Fox rang him straight away. He answered the phone and Mr Fox “just told him to ring Sinead".
Four or five days later, Mr Webster told Mr Fox he had gone to a house party. Shortly after Ms Shortall went missing, Mr Fox spoke to Mr Webster again on the phone and Mr Webster said he was “helping gardai with their enquiries".
“He was a bit anxious I suppose, not his normal self,” Mr Fox said.
He told Mr Grehan that Mr Webster was “usually very happy go lucky” and seemed serious that day.
The trial continues.