Saturday 23 March 2019

'Everyone had notions, was he attacked? Did he leave for Spain?'

The 'Mr Moonlight' murder trial has heard details of the day Bobby Ryan's body was found, writes Maeve Sheehan

The scene at the farm in Fawnagowan outside Tipperary town where the body of Bobby Ryan was discovered. Picture: Brian Gavin/Press 22
The scene at the farm in Fawnagowan outside Tipperary town where the body of Bobby Ryan was discovered. Picture: Brian Gavin/Press 22
Patrick Quirke. Picture: Collins
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Patrick Quirke had "a hunch like everyone else" about what happened to Bobby Ryan. The DJ, known as Mr Moonlight, left his girlfriend Mary Lowry's bed at 6.30am to go to work and disappeared on June 3, 2011.

Almost two years later, Mr Quirke was in Tipperary Garda station being interviewed by detectives, having found Mr Ryan's body in a run-off tank on the farm he leased from the widowed Ms Lowry.

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It was the afternoon of April 30, 2013, and the questions asked by detective gardai David Buckley and Martin Steed had turned to his relationship with Ms Lowry. They wanted to know how he felt about Ms Lowry going out with Mr Ryan.

"Well I'm sure you know I had an affair with Mary Lowry," he said at one point when asked if he approved of the relationship. "But to answer the question, I didn't disapprove of it", he said, according to a transcript of the interview read to the Central Criminal Court last week. There was "no animosity" between him and Mr Ryan, he told gardai.

The questions continued. Had he met Mr Ryan at Ms Lowry's house on the morning that he disappeared?

"No."

Did he know that Mr Ryan's body was there all along?

"No. These are nice questions now, lads."

All Mr Quirke knew were the "things Mary Lowry will tell you".

What did she tell him?, gardai asked.

"Different things, things that were strange," he replied. He said she didn't know whether it took two minutes or 10 minutes for Mr Ryan's van to leave her house on the morning that he disappeared.

He also questioned "how she found his van so quick", referring to how Ms Lowry and Mr Ryan's daughter found the van abandoned in nearby Kilshane Woods on the day he disappeared.

"When she showed me the location of the van, I asked her how she could see that from the road," he said, and she replied that she didn't, she just drove in.

He told the gardai he asked her if she had heard a car drive into the yard on the morning Bobby Ryan disappeared. She said she was "certain" a car hadn't entered because she would have heard it, he told them.

He said he had been in her bedroom when the doorbell rang, and "you couldn't be certain of hearing a car".

"I found it intriguing," he said at one point. "She had a couldn't care less attitude about it…"

He had a hunch about what happened, like everyone, he said. "Everyone had notions, was he attacked? Did he leave for Spain?" He had "asked questions" and thought the answers "strange".

It was week four of the trial of Patrick Quirke (50), from Breanshamore, accused of the murder of Bobby Ryan (52), a truck driver and part-time DJ - the man Ms Lowry said came into her life like "a breath of fresh air". Mr Quirke is pleading not guilty.

The prosecution contends that Mr Quirke wanted to rekindle his affair with the widowed Ms Lowry, a sister-in-law of his wife Imelda, and viewed Mr Ryan as his love rival. The prosecution contends that he murdered Mr Ryan between June 3, 2011, when he was last seen, and April 2013, and that he staged the discovery of Bobby Ryan's body in a tank on Ms Lowry's farm knowing that his lease on the land was coming to an end.

Last week, the words of Patrick Quirke were brought into Court 13 in the form of statements he gave gardai, while Michael Bowman, senior counsel for the prosecution, read from transcripts of his voluntary interview.

Mr Quirke told gardai he began seeing Mary Lowry after her husband, Martin, died. The relationship continued "on and off" until 2010, when she ended it. The break-up was not amicable, and he was "angry" when she started seeing Mr Ryan.

When once he saw texts from Mr Ryan on her phone, he took it from her and texted Mr Ryan that Ms Lowry was with him now, he said in a statement to Garda Kieran Keane. At one point, at Mr Ryan's suggestion, the two men met in Hayes Hotel in Thurles. He was in a "bad place" and getting counselling but Mr Ryan was sympathetic, having been through a relationship break-up himself, he told gardai.

Mr Quirke did not reveal his affair when he was interviewed by Detective Garda Martin Steed, after Mr Ryan went missing on June 3, 2011.

Gardai searched Mary Lowry's farm in the days after Mr Ryan disappeared. Garda Conor Ryan was tasked with emptying the slurry tanks, with the help of Patrick Quirke. They emptied two slurry tanks, but not the tank where Mr Ryan's body was found, the court heard. Garda Ryan said he asked Mr Quirke at the time: "Were there only two tanks on the farm?" Mr Quirke said there were.

Although when he was cross-examined, Garda Ryan said he could have said "slurry tanks" rather than "tanks".

Mr Quirke told gardai he was on Ms Lowry's farm the morning Mr Ryan disappeared and saw her there, but they didn't speak. He left early because he was going on a family holiday.

Mr Quirke volunteered a second statement in November of that year, in which he disclosed his affair with Ms Lowry. The court heard, too, how he made a third statement, also voluntary, when he was seen on CCTV footage around Ms Lowry's farm. The court had previously heard Ms Lowry accuse him of taking her underwear off the clothes line. He told gardai he looked at the label on the underwear because he was "curious", replacing it on the clothes line afterwards.

His next interview with gardai was on April 30, 2013, after he went to Fawnagowan intending to spread silage and discovered the body in the run-off tank. Mr Quirke told gardai that he had borrowed a machine called an agitator, which the court heard is used for stirring thick slurry to make it more spreadable.

A student was supposed to be helping him that morning, he told detectives, but he "got a kick from a cow" and was off sick so he was by himself.

He said he needed water to thin the slurry and knew that there was run-off water in the tank. He said he used a shovel to push the concrete lid aside and he placed a pipe down to suck up the water. He noticed what he thought was a piece of white plastic or "some sort of dummy or inflatable doll" but then "could see clearly" that it was a body.

"I could see his pelvis and what looked like his private area even though he looked to be facing face down," he later told gardai. "It was quite confusing. I was shocked," he said.

He supposed it was "instinct" that he rang his wife Imelda, who was at her sister-in-law Lena's home. He wanted someone to confirm what he had seen, he said. "It took three calls to get through to her," he said. When Imelda "got over the shock", she rang her friend, Tom Neville, who was a garda. "Then ye all came out," he said.

Patrick and Imelda Quirke were sitting on a wall as gardai started arriving at the farm at Fawnagowan shortly after 1pm. The first garda on the scene, Inspector Pauric Powell, said Mr Quirke led him to an underground tank covered by a concrete slab with a pipe running into it. Kneeling down to peer in, he saw an outline of human remains, apparently covered in transparent algae.

He noticed that Mr Quirke was "extremely clean" and "very quiet". Another garda, John Ivers, noticed that Mr Quirke looked "red faced" and "anxious".

David Buckley - now a garda inspector - said he could "vividly" remember looking Mr Quirke up and down, observing that there was no dirt on his hands, clothes or person. "That stood out in my mind because he was on a farm," he told the court.

He invited Mr Quirke down to the station to make a statement under caution, making clear he wasn't under arrest, that he was under no obligation to do so, and he was entitled to speak to his solicitor.

"He said he was happy to go and did not need any legal advice," Mr Buckley said. Mr Quirke got into the back of the patrol car. He gave his mobile phone to gardai at the station so they could examine it and, at 2.17pm, just over an hour after the body was found, gardai pressed record on the video and the interview began.

As well as asking about Ms Lowry and Mr Ryan, they asked about the tank, and when he had last used it. Not since 2008, he said. Had he spread slurry since 2008? Yes, but he used another tank. 
After the disappearance of Mr Ryan and when the two slurry tanks were emptied, why did he not tell gardai about the other tank?

"I didn't think of it. I thought it was laughable to be emptying the slurry tank. It was me that was doing it," he said.

"Would agitating slurry not be a dirty job?"

"I was really only going into the dirty part, by mixing water and that," he replied.

While Mr Quirke was being interviewed, Ms Lowry's farm was cordoned off as a crime scene and gardai prepared for the removal of the remains from the tank.

Bernard O'Brien and his team of firefighters arrived at Fawnagowan at about 6pm and considered how best to remove the remains.

They would need chemical suits and the opening would have to be widened, he said. Paddy Meagher and Andrew Kavanagh were detailed to enter the tank with a tarpaulin to slide under the body to remove it in one piece.

Mr Meagher said he could clearly see the ribs and that the body was face up.

The operation was awkward because the hands were beneath the body and had to be manoeuvred out, and sludge had been scooped in the tarpaulin, weighing it down. Cross-examining the witnesses, Lorcan Staines asked the firefighters whether the arm had become detached from the body during the process. The firefighters said they were unaware of this.

Several aspects of the Garda procedure at the crime scene were questioned by the defence team.

Tony Chearnley, a retired garda, agreed that some small stones from a broken concrete slab had fallen into the tank, which he said was "not ideal".

Garda Conor Ryan, who was also at the scene on the day the body was found, testified about moving and emptying Mr Quirke's vacuum tanker. "Did it strike you as odd that a senior member of An Garda Siochana asked to dispose of the contents of a tanker at a crime scene? Did it strike you as surprising to be asked to do such a thing?" Bernard Condon asked. "A crime scene where a body was found," he added.

"No, judge," Garda Ryan replied.

The trial continues before Ms Justice Eileen Creedon and a jury of six men and six women.

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