Tuesday 12 December 2017

How abortion lie after one-night stand led to a fatal confrontation work van

Roy Webster denies the murder of Anne Shortall
Roy Webster denies the murder of Anne Shortall

Andrew Phelan

Dressed in a blue anorak, and with arms folded, murder suspect Roy Webster sat at a square table in an interview room at Wicklow garda station, facing two officers.

Detective Sergeant Fergus O'Brien was asking the questions.

"I swung open the side door of the van, and I grabbed the first thing I could, it was a hammer.

"I hit her on the head with it," Mr Webster told him.

He immediately covered his mouth with his hand and leaned forward as he said it. After a pause, he continued to speak.

Detective Garda Owen Martin and solicitor Dermot Hickey were both taking notes.

The scene was displayed on screens across the courtroom as the DVD was played back and the jury heard Mr Webster's chilling account of how he fatally beat mother-of-three Anne Shortall.

The interview was one of two he gave gardaí on April 7 and 8, 2015. Only a few hours earlier, while still only helping them with their enquiries about her disappearance, he had broken down at his own kitchen table and led them to her body, hidden in his workshop.

But this was no murder confession - Mr Webster went on over the course of those two interviews to assert that he had no intention of killing Ms Shortall when he assaulted her with a hammer in a moment of "fear and panic" on April 3, 2015.

Mr Webster (40), a married father-of-two of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow, denies murdering Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015, at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.

He has pleaded guilty to manslaughter but the prosecution did not accept that plea.


Anne Shortall
Anne Shortall

As the trial continued this week, the jury heard Mr Webster told gardaí how his "one-night stand" with Ms Shortall had eventually led to their confrontation in his van.

They had got talking on December 20, 2014, at the Forge pub before going back to her apartment where they had sex, he recalled. By April, he told detectives, she had claimed she was pregnant by him and was demanding £6,500 (€7,488) for an abortion.

On April 3, he said, they arranged by text to meet and he drove her to The Murrough, where they argued. They got out of the van and she started to threaten "she was going to blow the lid if I didn't get her money".

He said he pleaded with her that he had a wife, a child and a newborn baby at home and she replied: "I don't give a s**t."

He described his head as spinning and said he could "just see my whole world crashing down - this one had my back to the wall".

He told gardaí after the first hammer blow to the forehead, she fell back into the van and said "you f***ing pr**k, I'll ruin you", and he hit her again - three to four times in all.

"It was like I was looking down at myself…it was like I was looking down at someone else doing it, but I could see it was me doing it. It was like watching a horror movie," he said.

Mr Webster told gardaí he closed the van door and drove on. He said he stopped and taped Ms Shortall's head first, as there was blood coming out of it and he "thought the tape might stop the blood".

"I also put tape on her hands to stop her flailing around," he said. "I suppose subconsciously I didn't know whether she was dead or alive…it was like I was out of my mind."

He said it was not his intention to kill her, saying when he hit her, "I suppose it was a panic reaction...a mixture of fear and panic".

Once he got home, it was "as if everything was back to normal, I was back to myself, it was like a switch turned off".

He fell asleep watching TV on the couch, waking when Ms Shortall's daughter Emma called after finding his number on her mother's phone. He told her he didn't know what she was talking about.

The next day, the family went shopping in the family car and when he returned, he said, he moved the body from the van into the workshop.

Sunday was a "pyjama day" watching movies with his children.

Det Sgt O'Brien asked him if he had thought Ms Shortall might have been alive in the back of the van.

"Possibly, yes," he replied. "That is why I put the tape on her hands."

He was then told that results from the post-mortem examination showed Ms Shortall had not been pregnant.

"I f**king knew it," was Mr Webster's response.

Later, Dr Geraldine O'Kelly told the jury Ms Shortall, her patient, had known she was not pregnant in January - three weeks after her Christmas encounter with Mr Webster.

Read More: Webster 'acted completely normal' after hammer attack

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy said in evidence she established Ms Shortall had sustained nine blows to the head with a moderately heavy object with a small striking surface.

This resulted in lacerations to the scalp and face, including injuries to her left ear, which was split. Injuries to the hands may have been "defensive type" wounds, Prof Cassidy observed. The skull was not fractured and the brain had sustained only slight swelling, she said.

"The multiplicity of forceful blows to the head could have caused rapid concussion or unconsciousness," Prof Cassidy told the jury.

She said this could cause death but was also "compatible with continued life".

"It can't be excluded that death was due to the head injuries alone," Prof Cassidy said.

However, she continued: "If (the duct tape bindings to the head) was applied while she was still alive this would have excluded all possibility of surviving the head injury."

"The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and obstruction of the airways," Prof Cassidy concluded.

In a statement read out to the court by Paul Greene SC, for the prosecution, Carmel Phibbs said she was friends with Mr Webster's wife Sinéad.

On April 3, she was at the house when Roy Webster arrived home between 4.30pm and 5pm wearing dusty workclothes.

"He was acting completely normal," she said in her statement.

Evidence for the prosecution is expected to conclude on Monday.

Irish Independent

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