Wednesday 24 April 2019

A note on Mary Lowry, a threatening text message and that Cliff House stay

The Tipperary murder trial heard grim evidence last week of Bobby Ryan's extensive injuries, writes Maeve Sheehan

A Garda forensic team at the site where Bobby Ryan’s body was found in a run-off tank on Mary Lowry’s farm
A Garda forensic team at the site where Bobby Ryan’s body was found in a run-off tank on Mary Lowry’s farm
Mary Lowry. Picture: Collins
Patrick Quirke. Picture: Collins
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Mary Lowry wanted Patrick Quirke off her land. In December 2012 she went to her solicitor, Aidan Leahy in Cashel, and asked him to write to the dairy farmer who leased the farm left to her by her late husband. Once lovers, their relationship had deteriorated and Ms Lowry now wanted to terminate the lease. So began a flurry of legal correspondence in which each accused the other and was read to Court 13 by Mr Leahy.

The alarm had gone off at her property at Fawnagowan on a number of occasions, her solicitor wrote. "My client wants to make it clear that while she is not making any allegations against you in this regard, she did report it to An Garda Siochana," the letter said.

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It went on to accuse him of interfering with letters in her postbox, of looking in windows and of interfering "with items on her clothes line". Mr Quirke was asked to restrict his visits to Fawnagowan to the farm only, and to conduct his farming there "in daylight hours preferably".

Mr Quirke replied early in the new year: "Your letter has many inaccuracies and insinuations that I am not at this stage going to clarify or comment on for your benefit but please note I may do so at a later stage."

Mr Quirke's wife, Imelda, is Ms Lowry's late husband's sister. He pointed out in his letter that his mother-in-law lived at Fawnagowan and he wanted to continue visiting her, as he had done "for the last 25 years". He also suggested he be compensated.

By March 2013, Mr Quirke had agreed to "forego" compensation. By then he had engaged a solicitor to express his deep regret at the deterioration of the relationship. He agreed to leave but he would continue visiting his mother-in-law. Mr Leahy replied that his client had no difficulty with that as long as his visits were "confined for that purpose only".

The termination date was agreed at July 3 but letters continued over that summer: Ms Lowry wanted Mr Quirke to clean out a cattle shed and tanks before he left the farm. Mr Quirke's solicitor replied that he would leave them in the same condition they were in when he took up the lease.

The last of the letters was exchanged in September 2013, in which Mr Quirke accused Ms Lowry of making "inflammatory" comments about him in front of his mother-in-law.

Without meaning to be "offensive", said Bernard Condon, the defence counsel, to Mr Leahy, it was not unusual to have farmers' disputes and neighbours' disputes in the country? "There are disputes everywhere," he replied.

On April 30, 2013, legal letters batting back and forth, Mr Quirke discovered the body of Bobby Ryan in a run-off tank on Ms Lowry's farm.

Mr Ryan was the DJ known as Mr Moonlight who had been missing for 22 months. He was also Ms Lowry's boyfriend. On the morning of June 3, 2011, he left her home at Fawnagowan at 6.30am and vanished.

Mr Quirke (50), who is from Breanshamore, outside Tipperary town, is on trial for murdering Bobby Ryan (52) on a date between June 3, 2011, when he disappeared, and April 2013, when his body was found. Mr Quirke denies the charge.

The prosecution contends that Mr Quirke murdered the DJ because he wanted to rekindle his affair with Ms Lowry, and "staged" the discovery of his body in a run-off tank on her land when he knew that his lease was coming to an end.

The events unfolded in a rural farming community on townlands outside Tipperary town. As the trial judge, Ms Justice Eileen Creedon, noted last Friday, the case "is really being discussed around the country by just about everybody at this point".

Over almost two months, the court has heard detailed evidence of Mr Quirke's affair with Ms Lowry, and how he later came to find Mr Ryan's body on April 30, 2013. Last week, the court heard evidence from a garda about what they seized following a search of Mr Quirke's home 17 days later.

John Keane, a detective sergeant, led the search party to Breanshamore on the morning of May 17, 2013. What are you looking for, Mr Quirke had asked Det Sgt Keane? The court heard the sergeant gave Mr Quirke the warrant, which listed items to be searched for such as Bobby Ryan's clothing, footwear, jewellery, keys and a weapon.

Mr Quirke read the document and remarked to the sergeant that "the media" were wrong when they said clothes and a wallet were found in the tank with Bobby Ryan's body. He asked the sergeant how Bobby Ryan had died. Det Sgt Keane said he couldn't tell him.

The items seized that day included green work overalls, a trailer and a cabin were swabbed for blood, but the court heard nothing of evidential value was found. They also included a computer, a hard drive, an iPad, phones, a phone bill and documents.

Garda John Walsh took an A4 page of handwritten notes from Mr Quirke's office, which included a list of pointed questions about Ms Lowry. "Mary last one to see him?" the note began. "Body naked either murdered and clothes taken off or never left the house?" (The words "never left house" were underlined, the court heard.)

"Why did she rip down photos of Bobby after Ryan family put them up? Why was she relieved after Crimecall was a rubbish programme and no help to jog anyone's memory?"

Gardai took the A4 page, along with other pages, which were later examined by the Garda's handwriting and document expert, Jeremiah Moloney.

He told the court how he examined the page for imprints or indentations that would be left by someone writing on a page placed over it. He used an Electrostatic Detection Device, known as an ESDA machine, to make those indentations visible.

Although he admitted there were several words and phrases he couldn't decipher, the exercise did reveal several phrases. These included: "Naked never left house"; "what the guards will know" and two lines below that: "Murdered poss in house"; "dispose of clothes, phone, any other evidence".

When cross-examined by the defence, he agreed the indentations could have come from multiple pages and that in some places there was so much writing across the pages, he couldn't make it out.

Phone evidence was presented to the court by Garda Tony O'Brien.

In September 2011, Ms Lowry received a text message from an unknown number. Written phonetically in text shorthand, it said: "You think you are so cool out partying like Bobby never existed. We know you are hiding something and we are going to watch you until you crack."

Ms Lowry complained to gardai but the sender was never identified, the court was told. The phone was unregistered, gardai were unable to track its owner or user but did confirm that phone "wasn't used for anything else".

The court heard about another event in September 2011, a reservation for a twin room at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford, made for September 6, 2011.

In previous weeks, Ms Lowry was questioned about a night away at this "plush hotel with a beautiful view" by Mr Condon. She testified that she couldn't remember staying there, and when shown a print-out of her bank account showing a payment to the hotel for more than €400, she said she couldn't explain it.

Mr Condon suggested she was saying she couldn't remember because she didn't want to accept she had got back with Mr Quirke after Bobby Ryan's disappearance.

Last week, Siobhan Phillips, front of house manager at the Cliff House Hotel, outlined more details about the booking.

Records showed the booking was made over the phone, in the name Patrick Quirke, with an address at Fawnagowan. The booking details were to be emailed to msmarylowry1@eircom.net.

The booking was for the hotel's "top end" gourmet package, which included an 8pm reservation for dinner in its Michelin-starred restaurant. As Mr Condon for the defence remarked at one point, Cliff House is renowned for its food.

The records showed the reservation was taken up, the bill was paid the following day by Laser card. It came to €416.20, including €15.20 for "extras".

Ms Phillips could not say who made the reservation, who actually stayed at the hotel or who went for dinner.

The details of Cliff House Hotel's fine-dining package was followed by grim evidence of Bobby Ryan's injuries.

Dr Anthony Ryan, a consultant radiologist, conducted a CT scan on the body in May 2013.

He found multiple and severe fractures. There were extensive fractures down the right side of his skull to the forehead; another to the back extending at least half-way down the back of the skull; the cheekbone was fractured, and not just broken, he said, but the two portions separated from each other; the nasal bone was pushed back into the head; there were multiple fractures to his ribs; the fracture of his femur - the strongest bone in the body - would have required a great degree of force, he agreed.

He believed there were at least four "impacts". The skull injuries were more likely to have come from behind and above, involving at least two blows. The nature of the facial injuries suggested a blow to the front from a "larger object" than a hammer.

Under cross-examination he said the "constellation" of injuries could have been caused by a collision and were also seen in falls from a great height.

As Dr Ryan's evidence unfolded, members of Bobby Ryan's family rose from their seats and left the courtroom.

The trial continues this Wednesday.

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