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Dog walker tells murder trial how his pets found body buried in shallow grave in the woods

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Philip Finnegan

Philip Finnegan

Philip Finnegan

A dog walker has told a murder trial of the night his two pets found remains that turned out to be the body of a Dublin man who had been missing for 30 days.

A garda inspector also told the trial today that he went to the scene a day later and there were "almost skeletal" remains protruding from the top of the grave. The witness said the removal of a stab-proof vest from the soil "strongly led him to believe" that the remains belonged to Philip Finnegan.

Evidence has been given by Mr Finnegan's mother, Angela Finnegan, that her son had "certain problems over the years" and had taken to wearing a cream-coloured stab vest.

The Central Criminal Court trial further heard that a garden fork, a shovel and the blade of a knife were found close to the remains. A garden glove with substantial fire damage, a black funnel and the remains of a mobile phone were found nearby buried in a fire pit.

Stephen Penrose (38), of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare, on August 10, 2016.

The trial has heard that Mr Finnegan went missing before his decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare wood.

Mick Kelly, who lives in Rahin, told Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that he took his two dogs, Bobby and Jack, for a walk in Rahin Woods at 8.10pm on September 2, 2016. Bobby is a Husky and Jack is a Terrier, he explained.

The witness said he had driven to Rahin Woods in his jeep and parked at the barrier, which was locked. He went in at the church and walked the loop around the forest with the two dogs, staying on the track. "I never have the dogs on the lead, the dogs do their own thing," he said.

Mr Kelly said he was getting towards the end of his walk when the two dogs "went off into a bushy and heavy briary" area.

"You wouldn't walk through it. I was calling them to come back and they wouldn't come back. I had to go and see where they were," he told Mr Grehan.

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"Bobby was barking big time and so was Jack. I found them about 50 yards close to the church site further into the forest. They were jumping around, I couldn't stop them," he said.

The witness said he saw "something sticking out of the ground like a plant".

Mr Kelly said he always brings a stick with him and has a dog lead on his shoulder when he walks the dogs.

"I stuck the stick in it. I thought it was a bit of an ash tree root. I used the stick to root in behind it. I knew there was meat down there somewhere causing the dogs to bark. I saw meat or flesh on the stick when I put it into the ground and knew there was something in there that shouldn't be in there," said the witness.

Mr Kelly said he rang his brother, Tom Kelly, but he didn't answer. He then walked out of the woodland track and placed a big stone at the edge and hung a dog lead on a branch to mark the spot.

The witness said he also rang Leixlip garda station at 8.29pm but could not get through.

As Mr Kelly was walking back towards the road, he saw Ivan Pollard and Pat 'Stoney' McGrath coming in his direction and recognised their voices. "They go shooting together, they knew something was up. I told them I thought I had found a body. I was a bit spooked," he told Mr Grehan.

He brought the two men to where he saw what he believed to be a bone and flesh. One of the men rang 112, said Mr Kelly, and they stayed until gardaí arrived at the scene.

He agreed with Mr Grehan that it was bright when he had started his walk that evening but was dusky by the time that the remains were found.

Mr Pollard and Mr McGrath were planning to go duck shooting that evening, he said, when Mr Kelly told him that he had found "something like a hand". "I thought he was joking. I didn't know whether to believe him or not," he said.

Mr McGrath testified that Mr Kelly looked "very shook" when he met him on the woodland walk. "He told me he had found a body or a hand. I found it hard to believe. He brought us down, it didn't look like much to me," said the witness.

Sergeant John O'Keeffe told Mr Grehan that he met Mr Kelly at the entrance to Rahin Woods and Mr Pollard had remained at the scene inside the woodland. "I observed what appeared to be the bones sticking up through the ground. It looked like it might be human remains," he said.

Inspector Aidan Hannon told the jury that Mr Penrose was still in custody on September 2 on suspicion of withholding information of an assault on Mr Finnegan and his last interview had concluded before midnight. There was nothing to indicate who the remains found in Rahin Woods belonged to or if they were definitely human, said the witness.

Insp Hannon said he went to the scene at 9.30pm on September 2 and observed a mound of earth about three-feet tall. "There appeared to be almost skeletal remains protruding from the top. I couldn't tell what the remains were of. I was not certain if they were human but they appeared to be," he said.

Insp Hannon returned to Rahin Woods the following day and said Deputy State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster was working at the scene. The remains in the hole had been excavated and were about to be removed to Naas mortuary. The witness said it was clear to him at that stage that the remains were human. "I could see the form was human form. I could see a stab-proof vest and items of clothing, which strongly led me to believe that this was the body of Philip Finnegan," he said.

Garda Padraig Nolan said he was part of the divisional search team that arrived to Rahin Woods on September 6 and the remains had been found 634 metres away from the outer road. The witness said he used a metal detector to find a garden fork with a green handle. It was sitting on the surface of the soil and close to where the remains were located. He also found a shovel, which was somewhat covered but not buried.

Gda Nolan said the blade of a knife, which had no handle, was located with the use of a metal detector a few inches into the soil. "It was very peculiar, the knife had been placed straight down into the soil," he said.

On September 7, Gda Nolan said the metal detector detected a signal and they started to dig down into the soil. "As we dug down, the soil changed into more black soil as if it was burned in a pit. We located the remains of a mobile phone and a garden glove, which had sustained substantial fire damage," he said.

The glove was located up to five metres away from the remains and close to where the knife was discovered the previous day, the court heard.

In his opening speech, Mr Grehan said the jury would hear evidence that a bloodied glove was found in the woods which was a DNA match to the accused man, Mr Penrose.

The witness said the items were all found close together around six inches below the surface in a fire pit. Silver remains of an item "which might have been parts of the mobile phone" and a black funnel like from a petrol can were also found within the fire pit. Nothing else of evidential value was found.

The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Alexander Owens and a jury of eight men and four women.

In his opening address, prosecuting barrister Mr Grehan said that Mr Finnegan's decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods. Counsel said Mr Finnegan had "certain troubles in the past" and had taken to wearing a protective vest.

The lawyer also told the jury in his opening speech that attempts had been made to cut up and burn the body of Mr Finnegan, who had been missing for almost a month and who had met a "gruesome death".

Evidence has been given that Mr Penrose's phone connected to a cell site close to the area where the victim’s body was found.

Yesterday, Mr Penrose dispensed with what was his second legal team. However, later that day the accused "re-engaged" his solicitor Mr Michael French and junior counsel Mr Eoghan Weldon BL to represent him at trial.

This morning, Mr Justice Owens informed the jury that Mr Penrose had "once again dismissed" the services of his legal team, which he said was not a matter relevant to their consideration.

Mr Penrose is continuing to decline to attend his trial, which is in its fourth week at the Central Criminal Court.


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