Saturday 19 October 2019

'He was my friend' - what accused told gardai after arrest for killing Kenneth O'Brien

Kenneth O'Brien
Kenneth O'Brien
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

MURDER accused Paul Wells told gardai after he was arrested for killing Kenneth O’Brien: “he was my friend.”

Mr Wells (50) made the reply when he was cautioned as gardai raided his home following the discovery of Mr O’Brien’s dismembered body in a suitcase and shopping bags in the Grand Canal.

The jury in his trial also heard gardai retrieved a bullet from Mr O’Brien’s severed head that was consistent with it having been fired from a semi-automatic pistol.

The accused, of Barnamore Park, Finglas has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr O’Brien (33) at that address between January 15 and 16, 2016.

Mr Wells admitted to gardai that he shot him dead but said it happened when they struggled during a row after Mr O’Brien turned up at his home with a gun.

Mr O’Brien had wanted to have his own partner Eimear Dunne murdered and Mr Wells refused to kill her, the accused maintained.

He said he “panicked” and dismembered Mr O’Brien’s remains, which were later found in a suitcase and shopping bags in the Grand Canal in Co Kildare.

Gda Sgt Edward Moore told the Central Criminal Court he went to the accused’s home address at 8.30am on February 6. He entered the sitting room and met the accused. At 8.55am, he explained that Mr Wells was being arrested on suspicion of the murder of Mr O’Brien and that other gardai who were there would search the property.

Garda underwater unit members search the canal near Sallins in 2016 for the body of Kenneth O’Brien. Picture: Collins
Garda underwater unit members search the canal near Sallins in 2016 for the body of Kenneth O’Brien. Picture: Collins

He cautioned Mr Wells that he was not obliged to say anything, to which the accused replied: “He was my friend.”

He was taken to Naas Garda Station.

Kenneth O'Brien
Kenneth O'Brien

The court heard Mr Wells’ black Audi A3 was seized and brought to Santry Garda Station for examination.

SD cards and a Meteor SIM card were also seized.

Det Sgt David Conway said he was part of the Garda Technical Bureau’s forensic team who inspected the block built shed in the accused’s back yard. Photographs of the shed, which contained equipment, tools, a ladder and rolled up carpet were shown to the jury.

Sections of the carpet were treated to show the possible presence of blood. A photograph of an electric radiator showed a bloodstain. There were photographs of further staining in the boot of the car.

Det Sgt Thomas Power of the ballistics section said the torso that was found in the suitcase had a red strap wrapped around the chest. The other body parts were in heavy cloth shopping bags. A bullet was recovered from the head.

Damage to the bullet was consistent with it impacting a hard surface, which was “consistent with it passing through the bone of a skull.”

The firearm had not been recovered but Det Sgt Power estimated that the type of firearm it came from was a semi-automatic pistol.

Gda Padraig Reilly said on February 7, 2016, he recovered items from the accused’s home including a laptop from the front living room table, a black microsoft phone, a black Asus laptop from the box room and from the main bedroom a blue box from a Nokia phone.

Earlier, the jury heard one of the last known people to see Mr O’Brien alive said he was in “good form” the day before he went missing. A broadband installer who was carrying out routine work at Mr O’Brien’s home on the day and chatted with the father-of-one noted that he “didn’t seem too happy” about going back to work in Australia.

The jury also saw CCTV footage showing Mr Wells driving west out of Dublin towards the area in Co Kildare where Mr O’Brien’s remains were found.

Det Gda Gerard Byrne said he was called to a location in Sallins, Co Kildare on January 24, 2016 following a call from members of the public who had retrieved a bag from the canal and “had suspicions about what might be in the bag.”

There were six people there when he arrived and he saw a heavy duty black Dunnes Stores, torn at the bottom, on the bank. He put on gloves and saw there was a black plastic bag with a small hole in it, tied at the top with cable ties.

He saw a “flesh coloured object” and felt around the bag. It was an L shape and he believed it was a foot. He spoke to people at the scene who said a foreign national had asked Irish people to call the gardai.

Det Gda Byrne made enquiries at houses along the canal bank and some people said they had CCTV cameras.

The following day, January 25, he was made aware that further remains had been fund in the wider search. He took further steps to canvas the area for CCTV in a number of commercial and private premises.

Gda Eoin Ferriter of the Garda Water Unit said he was part of the search team in Sallins on January 25. He recovered a heavy duty shopping bag that was tied at the neck and weighed down with red bricks.

Gda Sgt Eamon Bracken of the Water Unit said he retrieved a “heavy enough” bag from the canal bed. It was sealed tight.

Patrick Holligan, a Virgin Media broadband installer said he went to Mr O’Brien’s Lealand Road, Clondalkin home to carry out work on January 15, 2016.

Mr O’Brien, who was named on the account, was the sole occupant of the house. Mr Holligan told Mr O’Brien about the work he was doing.

Mr O’Brien was dressed casually in tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie top. The work took roughly an hour at he left at 11am.

Nobody else came to the house while he was there and he did not see Mr O’Brien talk to anyone on the phone but there were “maybe a couple of text messages coming through at the time.”

There was no car in the driveway.

Mr Holligan later saw Mr O’Brien in a newspaper report and realised he was the person in the house.

In cross examination, Mr Holligan agreed with Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, that it was a routine call and in his statement he told gardai he “engaged in a bit of chit chat” with Mr O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien had said he “wasn’t overly looking for work” for the next couple of months as he had made some money in Australia.

“He was in good form but you didn’t think he was too happy about going back,” Mr O’Higgins said of Mr Holligan’s statement.

“He was definitely in good form,” he replied.

Mr O’Higgins asked him about the “second part” of what he had told gardai, about Mr O’Brien not being too happy about going back.

Mr Holligan said he could not really recollect but he did say it in his statement.

“At the time you made your statement, that was your impression,” Mr O’Higgins said.

Mr Holligan had said in his statement he noticed Mr O’Brien charging his phone and picking it up a few times, but did not remember him speaking on it.

Garda Shona Nolan then brought the jury through a series of CCTV clips taken from footage at the back and side of Mr O’Brien’s home, Permanent TSB Bank in Finglas and locations around the north city.

The footage showed Mr Wells using the ATM at the bank on dates in late December 2015.

He was seen at Mr O’Brien’s home on December 28, when the two went in and out of the shed and looked at construction equipment.

He was seen at Mr O’Brien’s home again on January 11, 2016, the two men seen chatting, looking at work Mr O’Brien had carried out and shaking hands.

The next day, Mr O’brien could be seen digging a hole in his back yard and placing wooden sheeting over it.

On January 13, 2016, Mr Wells was seen getting a “considerable” number of €50 notes from a teller at the Finglas bank, before going out to the ATM and withdrawing more cash.

He was seen making another withdrawal at the bank the next day. On January 15, Mr Wells was seen buying what was believed to be a SIM Card in the Meteor store on Henry Street.

Mr Wells was then seen driving back to the bank in Finglas, where he used the ATM.

On January 16, Mr Wells Audi was seen driving out towards Ardclough in Co Kildare.

The accused was seen at Cleverbuys, Finglas Village, on the morning of January 16, buying items including what appeared to be a roll of black bags and bottles “similar to” bleach.

The trial continues.

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