Tuesday 12 November 2019

How curiosity and tenacity led to key discoveries

James O’ Donoghue leaving court after he gave evidence in the trial of Graham Dwyer, who has pleaded NOT guilty to the murder Elaine O'Hara in August 2012. Pic: Courtpix
James O’ Donoghue leaving court after he gave evidence in the trial of Graham Dwyer, who has pleaded NOT guilty to the murder Elaine O'Hara in August 2012. Pic: Courtpix
Elaine O'Hara
Graham Dwyer
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Garda James O'Donoghue clocked in for duty at Roundwood garda station at 8am on September 11, 2013.

He was due to clock out at 6pm. But just before 1pm, Billy Fegan, a local angler, came into the station with a quantity of items in a bag.

The bag, possibly a coal bag, contained items that Billy, his brother James Fegan and their childhood friend Mark Quinn had found underneath the bridge over the Roundwood reservoir the previous day.

The reservoir, the trial of architect Graham Dwyer has heard, was unusually low in the summer of 2013 with water levels - normally at 20ft - dropping to some 2ft.

Yesterday Eamon Fleming, plant engineer at the reservoir since 1989, told the Central Criminal Court that the water levels in the reservoir were "unusual but not unknown" owing to the warm weather that summer.

The reservoir overflowed "almost continually" in 2012, said Mr Fleming, but then dropped "quite dramatically" in the summer of 2013, recovering only that October.

In his evidence, Mark Quinn said that the men, whose attention was caught by a shiny item, started fishing items out of the river bed - "out of curiosity" - with a tension strap with a metal hook at the end he had in his van for stacking pallets.

The find included bondage cuffs, leg restraints and a blindfold, followed by a ball gag - a rubber ball with a strap and a buckle - as well as a blindfold, vest and hoodie. The men piled the items on the wall and went their separate ways. But the discovery "was niggling" Billy Fegan, he told prosecutor Sean Guerin SC. Mr Fegan said he regularly fished in the lake, making sure that no one fished there illegally. He reflected overnight and felt that maybe something "wasn't right".

He returned to the bridge the next day, bagged the items and made his way to Roundwood garda station where he met Garda O'Donoghue.

Garda O'Donoghue, witness 47 in the trial of Mr Dwyer, inspected Billy Fegan's haul.

When he inspected the items, Garda O'Donoghue found that they were heavily soiled, the clothing in particular was soaked wet.

The blindfold, he observed, was soiled but in good condition and whilst the restraints were discoloured and rusted from exposure in the water, they were otherwise in quite good condition.

The young garda placed the clothes in the drying room of the barracks to airdry them. The other items he placed in evidence bags in order that they might be kept secure in the station's property and evidential management system (PEMS).

The next day he rang Billy Fegan to inquire of the exact location where the items had been found by the three men and that afternoon, at approximately 2pm, he travelled to the bridge.

There was no visibility into the water that day, he recalled, adding that the lake bed was muddy.

A day later, the skeletal remains of childcare worker were Elaine O'Hara - who was reported missing by her family just over a year earlier - were found in the Dublin mountains at Kilakee.

The following day, September 14, 2013, Garda O'Donoghue went back to the bridge at the Roundwood reservoir at around 5pm when he was on patrol. He went to the centre of the bridge but couldn't see anything from what he described as "the eye of the bridge".

He walked down onto the embankment to the reservoir bed to see if he could spot anything, but he could see nothing on this occasion.

Two days later - September 16, 2013 - Garda O'Donoghue returned to the lake.

At around 4pm, he made his third journey to the bridge at Roundwood reservoir. The weather conditions, he told a jury of seven men and five women yesterday, were "far more favourable" that day - sunny, with no wind.

He stopped in the exact same location and this time he saw a shiny object in the water which he immediately recognised as a handcuff, he told the court. Although it was partially submerged, partially buried, he could see the loop of the handcuffs just above the water, he explained to Mr Guerin and a packed courtroom 13.

Garda O'Donoghue climbed down the embankment again, stepping out into the water to see if he could retrieve the handcuff.

But his foot slipped down and he couldn't see it and, the court heard, the item was never recovered.

"However, I knew it was there," Garda O'Donoghue told Mr Guerin emphatically.

Garda O'Donoghue found other items that day when he reached into the bed of the reservoir, indicating to the court that he reached some 12 to 14 inches - or the length of his arm - because "visibility was zero".

Moving his arm forward and back for the courtroom to see, he explained how he had moved his arm over the mud when he felt something a metre or two under the mud and silt.

The item he found under the mud and silt was a set of keys with loyalty cards on them. He found, too, a leather bondage mask. Held up for jurors to see, the mask had metal zips closing the mouth and eyes, with small holes for the nostrils and tied at the back with lace.

Garda O'Donoghue also found a kitchen knife with a black handle, a blue inhaler and a rusted long chain with an O ring attaching the chains.

He removed the items from the water and placed them into tamper-proof evidence bags. He told the court that this was not because they were of evidential value, but for storage purposes.He then made contact with Dunnes Stores and, on his day off - September 17, 2013 - received a call from one of the company's employees.

As a result of the call, he contacted the gardai's information unit in Castlebar and asked them to run a check on a Ms Elaine O'Hara.

Once he heard she was listed as a missing person, he called his supervisors and returned to the bridge - on his day off - where he sealed and preserved the scene. Turning the bridge into a crime scene, he ensured no unauthorised personnel entered it.

Later that day, senior colleagues, including officers from the gardai's water unit, arrived at the scene preserved by O'Donoghue. His initial searches prompting a series of detailed searches involving members of the gardai's sub aqua unit, who told the jury that they searched the bed of the reservoir on their hands and knees, supported by a colleague operating an underwater metal detector.

A detailed search of the reservoir bed at Roundwood bridge yielded a series of objects, the Central Criminal Court has heard.

Items that were initially visible in the water included the handle of a knife and a mobile phone with its rear cover and battery missing, Garda Wayne Farrell told the court.

With a shovel and spade, Garda Farrell retrieved from the waterside a mobile phone, a set of handcuffs attached together with a chain, a black vibrator and a black anal plug.

Further searches yielded a pair of shorts and a dressing gown with Real Madrid crest on it.

Gardai confirmed that the concentrated searches yielded other items including a mattress, a computer desk top and a Dire Straits CD.

In cross-examination, defence barrister Ronan Kennedy put it to Garda O'Donoghue that it is not possible to detect how the items found their way into the water or whether they found their way into the water at the same time.

Asked about the Dire Straits CD and a mattress found during later searches of the lake bed, Garda O'Donoghue replied "I have no knowledge of that".

Graham Dwyer, a married father of two from Foxrock - originally from Bandon, County Cork - denies murdering Ms O'Hara on August 22nd, 2012, hours after she was released from a hospital where she was a psychiatric patient.

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News