Tuesday 21 November 2017

'I hit her with a hammer, she's in our workshop' - Story of what new mum heard from husband silences court

Anne Shortall who was beaten to death with a hammer
Anne Shortall who was beaten to death with a hammer
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

We have been accustomed to dry as dust accounts in the courtroom - and of terrible events being distilled down into mere mechanics.

But as the lead detective working on the disappearance of Anne Shortall (47), Detective Sergeant Fergus O'Brien's narrative on events which transpired was so vivid and distressing, we might have been observing the events with our own eyes.

A hush hung in courtroom six and defendant Roy Webster (39) wept quietly in his seat.

He wiped his eyes as Det Sgt O'Brien outlined how distraught Mr Webster's family had been as they gathered in the kitchen after he admitted that, yes, he had hurt Anne Shortall. He denies a charge of murder.

"He's crying," whispered some of the Shortall family in the courtroom.

Mr Webster took some time to gather himself and then sat with his head hanging low as he continued to listen intently to Det Sgt O'Brien's compelling words.

Mr Webster had told gardaí that he is a member of the Masonic Lodge in Wicklow - describing it "basically a charitable organisation".

He had worked at his own fitted kitchen company, Ashwood Kitchens.

Part of his distress that day was in telling gardaí how hard he had worked to build the business up - but mostly he was concerned for his children and the future.

He had admitted to gardaí that he had had "a fling" with Ms Shortall "once at Christmas". She had been trying to get in contact with him on Facebook, but he had declined.

Roy Webster who was charged with her murder Picture: Collins
Roy Webster who was charged with her murder Picture: Collins

She knew he was a married man with two children, he explained to gardaí.

Det Sgt O'Brien described to the jury how they had taken Mr Webster's van for forensic examination after he had said that he had met Ms Shortall on April 3, 2015, the evening she disappeared.

It was Good Friday.

Det Sgt O'Brien rang Mr Webster's land line to ask him if he could point out the exact spot at which Ms Shortall had got out of his van.

Mr Webster had asked him to come out to the house because he had no transportation.

His wife Sinéad came in with the couple's six-week-old baby and said she wanted to ask the detective something.

She had been quite annoyed at what was appearing on social media and the fact that a photograph of Roy had appeared in the paper that day, he said.

Det Sgt O'Brien said he had been trying to calm her down when Mrs Webster turned to Roy, still with the baby in her arms and asked her husband if he had anything to say that he was not saying.

Mrs Webster was sitting with the baby in her arms at the table, he explained.

"She turned to Roy and said 'Roy, have you anything to say that you are not saying?' And he said 'no', and she said 'if you have something to say tell us now'.

"She spoke softly to him, she said 'did you hurt her?' He hesitated, his head was down, he started to cry," Det Sgt O'Brien said.

"I did," Mr Webster had said. Mrs Webster had again challenged him and he confessed to hitting Ms Shortall with a hammer.

"Where is she?" Det Sgt O'Brien had asked then.

"In the workshop," Mr Webster replied.

"In our workshop?" asked his wife and he said: "Yes."

"At that stage, we all went quiet and Sinéad fell to her knees and she may have let out a sound like a gasp and she still had her child in her arms," Det Sgt O'Brien said.

"Roy at that stage started crying uncontrollably, sobbing heavily for a period of time, gulps of crying and then when that ended he started talking profusely."

Paper was sent for, in order to transcribe Mr Webster's words.

He said he had hit her with a hammer - describing it as having been "a mistake that is after destroying so many lives".

"I was trying to keep it together for everyone but she had me against the wall. Everything I had worked so hard for.

"She was just threatening and threatening," he told them.

A brooding silence hung in court as Det Sgt O'Brien described how they had sat around the table, "just saying nothing".

Mrs Webster then made a couple of phone calls and her husband started crying again, "sobbing quietly, talking about his children and his future".

His parents, who lived next door, came in and Mr Webster took his six-week-old son, bottle-feeding him.

His sister then arrived and was "screaming", said Det Sgt O'Brien, adding that Mr Webster had apologised to his parents.

Other members of the accused's family arrived, all distraught, he said.

Throughout this account, the defendant had begun to weep quietly in court.

Later, Brendan Grehan, counsel for the Defence, put it to Det Sgt O'Brien that it had been "hugely emotional".

"A hugely emotional scene, judge," Det Sgt O'Brien agreed, adding that Mr Webster had been "sobbing relentlessly".

"There was a six-week-old baby in the mix having to be fed," said Mr Grehan.

"And his wife had a diabetic incident where she had to inject herself."

Det Sgt O'Brien agreed.

By now, the defendant had recovered his composure and sat gazing into the middle distance as the court heard of the discovery of Ms Shortall's body behind some boards.

Irish Independent

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