Tuesday 26 March 2019

Kenneth O'Brien's partner claims murder accused told her 'if you are reporting him missing, don't mention my name', court hears

Kenneth O’Brien. Photo: Colin Keegan
Kenneth O’Brien. Photo: Colin Keegan
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

KENNETH O'Brien's partner has claimed that murder accused Paul Wells told her: "if you are reporting him missing, don't mention my name to the police," the Central Criminal Court has heard.

Mr Wells, who a jury heard described as a republican and an "IRA man", allegedly said this to Mr O'Brien's partner Eimear Dunne when she was trying to find out what had happened to hm.

Mr O'Brien's torso had already been found in a suitcase in the Grand Canal when they had the conversation, but had not yet been identified.

Earlier today Ms Dunne told the court that she "collapsed" on the floor of her home after she was told her partner was having an affair by the man accused of murdering him.

Eimear Dunne told a jury she was “up the walls” when Mr Wells told her Mr O’Brien, who had gone missing, was seeing someone else.

She had just been sent a text, claiming to be from Mr O’Brien, saying he was leaving her.

Ms Dunne was giving evidence at Mr Wells' trial today.

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 (50) 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 Ms 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.

Ms Dunne told the court today she had been in a relationship with Mr O’Brien “for a long time” - since she was 16, and they bought their Lealand Road, Clondalkin home together.

Mr O’Brien, a JCB driver and car mechanic, had always been a very hard worker. She said she knew two people he worked with, who she named.

They rented a yard in Ardclough, Co Kildare, and they used to fix and service cars, she said.

Mr Dunne and Mr O’Brien’s son Charlie was born in 2011. She agreed with prosecutor Sean Gillane that her relationship with Mr O’Brien had had ups and downs “like everyone”.

In 2010, she found out Mr O’Brien was seeing someone else and confronted him and “the other party.”

“I had a feeling and I went on my feeling,” she told the court.

After that, she had their son and things got “10 times better”. Mr O’Brien’s relationship with his son had been “brilliant,” she said.

In 2013, he decided to go to Australia because he “wanted to make enough money to take something off the mortgage,” she said.

When he first went out he struggled to get work and did not like being away from the house or his son. He returned six to seven weeks later but went back to Australia later that year with a “definite job.” He worked in Australia for a company and his boss was a man called John, but she did not recall his surname.

While in Australia, Mr O’Brien returned every Christmas and for his son’s birthday in 2014 and 2015. She went to Australia at one point with their son for 10 or 11 days.

Ms Dunne was a care worker and her son was in pre-school in 2015. Mr O’Brien sent money back home every month for the mortgage and their son’s creche.

Coming to the end of 2015, he decided he wanted to come home for good, she said.

Mr Gillane asked how things were between them at the time, and between Mr O’Brien and his son.

“Great,” she replied. “Brilliant, we were getting on.”

They went to family occasions over Christmas and Mr O’Brien told her he was not actively looking for work because he did not need to.

“He obviously had money coming home,” she told Mr Gillane.

There were arrangements for Ms Dunne’s 30th birthday that Friday, but Mr O’Brien asked her to put it off to Saturday because he told her he had a job digging out a car park “down the country” on Friday.

She later found out this job was cancelled.

They went to the cinema at Liffey Valley on Thursday and she did not notice anything “untoward or unusual.”

The next morning when their son woke up at around 6am, Mr O’Brien went to to sleep in their son’s bed which she thought was “a bit unusual” because “once he’s up he’s up for the day.”

She got ready for work and their son ready to to go to her mother’s.

“I went in to Ken to tell him I was going,” she recalled. “I gave him a kiss, gave him a hug, I said I would see him later. Charlie did the same.”

“He said don’t forget I’ll be late tonight,” she said.

There were text messages back and forward between them that day, he asked her if she got to work alright, she continued.

She agreed it was “ordinary banter.”

It continued up to 1.30pm and after that she heard nothing.

She texted him once or twice after and there was no reply.

She said she rang him at 3.30pm and his phone was off, which was unusual.

She texted him again later that evening and “I think I tried ringing him again and his phone was still off.”

She went to bed and after 3.30am, she received a text from a number she did not recognise.

“Lost my phone today, I’m staying in a hotel tonight, having a drink, talk tomorrow,” the text said.

“That was not like him to be going out with his work clothes for a drink,” she said but thought he could have lost his phone and it could have been his boss texting and “I put it down to that.”

At 7.49am, she got another text from the same number.

“So here it is,” the text read. “I am heading for the ferry today, I can’t handle being home and want out. You care more about Zac and your family than me anyway, so f**k the lot. I met someone else, she came to Ireland yesterday. I met her today and I’m going with her.”

There was a reference to their son and to getting his “gear” when he was sorted, and the text said there was no point in talking to her.

“All I would get anyway is a row. I’ve had to spoof everyone to do this but this girl will put it right. I’ll be in touch. Bye.”

She replied straight away, then was looking at the text.

“I said, that is not right,” she told the court.

“Zac” was spelled wrong, there were no full stops and there were double spaces between words. There was no capital letter for Ireland.

“It’s not Ken,” she said. “Ken was very particular abut his text messages. That is not him that texted me.”

“Gear is not a word that he would use and spoof is definitely not a word that Kenneth O’Brien would use,” she said.

She looked around the house to see if anything was gone. She could not find his passport, and his work boots, a shirt, watch and jumper was gone but all his other clothes were in the wardrobe and his tools, laptop and iPad were still there.

“His toothbrush was still there, he wouldn’t go anywhere without his toothbrush, especially if he was running off with somebody,” she said.

Mr Dunne said she rang people who knew Mr O’Brien, eventually getting in touch with Mr Wells, who was “a friend of Ken’s” around midday.

She told him Mr O’Brien had not come home and asked if he knew what was going on.

“Paul basically said look, he’s seeing somebody else,” she said.

Asked how she reacted, she said: “badly.”

“He said he was after meeting somebody over in Australia and he was seeing her for a good while before he came home and he didn’t want to come home,” she told the court.

“I was fairly well up the walls,” she said of her reaction.

“I think I collapsed on the floor because I could hear him screaming on the phone: ‘what’s going on over there?’”

“I picked up the phone and said I just can’t believe what you’re after telling me and he said I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

Her evidence was continuing this afternoon.

Earlier, the jury heard DNA matching Mr O’Brien’s was found on bloodstained carpets and a radiator from Mr Wells’s shed  and car boot liner, as well as from part of a chainsaw found in the canal. A forensic scientist found it most likely that mixed DNA on a chainsaw came from sources including Mr O’Brien and Mr Wells.

Rodney Lakes of Forensic Science Ireland, said Mr O’Brien’s DNA profile, taken from the torso found in the suitcase, had half the elements present in that of his mother. This was what he would expect from a biological son.

He then gave evidence of blood stains and the presence of blood found in Mr Wells shed and Audi A3.

Two blood stains were found on the blue liner of his car. In the shed, using luminol chemical spray and a blue light, blood was found to be present on a carpet mat, as well as on a layer of carpet on the floor, the concrete floor underneath and a piece of plastic.

A blood stain was visible to the naked eye on one of the fins of an electric radiator in the shed.

When he tested the blood found in the boot liner of Mr Wells’ car, it matched the DNA profile of Kenneth O’Brien. Mr Lakes said he found white fatty tissue adhering to the area around the chainsaw motor. This was analysed and matched the DNA profile of Mr O’Brien.

The chainsaw’s pull starter rope had a mixed DNA profile with at least three contributors and he found it most likely that this mixture originated from the accused, Mr O’Brien and a third unknown person.

There was insufficient material to generate a DNA profile from the chainsaw chain, which was rusty and had vegetation adhering to it. There was also insufficient material on the cable ties and bag handles, as well as the layers of carpet and a piece of plastic from Mr Wells’ shed

A partial DNA profile matching Mr O’Brien’s was found on the top handle and straps of the suitcase.

The blood stain on the carpet from the shed had a DNA profile matching Mr O’Brien’s, as did the blood stain on the electric radiator.

Continuing evidence in the afternoon, Ms Dunne said Mr Wells called to her home and spoke to her, repeating what he had said about Mr O’Brien seeing someone else.

She said he told her: “You are taking this very well, do you want to see a few photographs of them together?”

He then showed her photos of Mr O’Brien and a woman. Some of the pictures were intimate and she said she “felt weak” when she saw them.

She told Mr Wells “there’s something not right… it’s definitely not right.”

“I didn’t know what was going on, I was after getting a lot of information in a short space of time, I was a bit all over the place,” she said.

After he left, she had a discussion with family members about what to do. She tried to access the house CCTV but the code had been changed. While she was in the attic doing this, she noticed the suitcase had gone. A chain Mr O’Brien always wore was still in the house.

She said she did not want to be “over-reacting” by calling the gardai, but “my gut was telling me that there was something wrong.”

Her aunt Lorraine and Mr O’Brien’s brother Lee contacted the gardai.

The next day, January 17, 2016, she contacted Mr Wells again and met him outside McDonald’s in Liffey Valley.

She said she got into his car and he told her: “He’s gone, probably in a hotel room somewhere.”

Ms Dunne told him that his family wanted to report him missing.

“He said ‘Jesus, if you are reporting him missing, don’t mention my name to the police’”, she told the jury.

She said he showed her text messages from Mr O’Brien, including one which the court heard was “a reference to the lady in question.”

He also showed her the photos again. Mr Gillane asked her how she reacted.

“I couldn’t believe it. Something was telling me something was not 100pc right,” she said.

She contacted Mr O’Brien’s boss in Australia who told her “as far as he was concerned, he was planning on coming home.”

Ms Dunne said she was shown a photo of the suitcase found in the canal and told the court: “it was ours.”

She said Mr O’Brien had had a licenced rifle but this was put in a gun shop while he was out of the country. The container with Mr O’Brien’s belongings eventually arrived home from Australia, she said.

In cross examination, Ms Dunne told Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, she was aware Mr Wells was admitting he shot and killed her partner. He put it to her that she was aware Mr Wells was saying Mr O’Brien had been “applying pressure on him to kill you because he wanted to go back to Australia and take Charlie.”

“OK,” she replied.

She agreed with Mr O’Higgins that her partner had been “very secretive” and when he put his phone down he would always put it face down so messages could not be seen.

She was asked if he was the type of person who, if he suffered a grievance, “that is not something he would let go.”

“To an extent,” she replied.

She said she did not know how much he earned and never asked him. He was “cautious with money”, she said and when he was in Australia, he would send back €700 per month to cover half the mortgage and creche costs.

She was not aware he was earning €60,000 per year until after he died.

Mr O’Higgins put it to her that although he had told her he was coming home for good, Mr O’Brien had told his boss in Australia he would be back in work there in January.

She said she trusted him and she was “sure there was a reason behind” him saying this.

Asked if their relationship could have been one sided and she was more keen on Mr O’Brien than he was on her, she said “I loved him.”

Mr O’Higgins asked about an incident in which a close friend of Mr O’Brien said he had walked in to the shed and saw Mr O’Brien throw a rag over something he described as “pipe bombs.”

His friend said he told Mr O’Brien: “If you are hiding this from me, what else are you hiding?”

Mr Dunne said she knew nothing about this but accepted there “could have been” a lot of things going on that she did not know about.

Mr O’Higgins asked her about a relationship Mr O’Brien had had with another woman, a neighbour. Ms Dunne said this was around 2010 and she confronted the woman, who said “I kissed him, that is it.”

She saw the woman’s phone with a text from Mr O’Brien suggesting that the woman should provoke Ms Dunne into assaulting her so it would be easier to get her out of the house.

She was shocked to see this.

After that, a man called “Flemo” “took up the cudgels” on this woman’s behalf, Mr O’Higgins said. There was “bad blood” and at one stage, “Flemo” came to the house and Mr O’Brien’s friend got Mr O’Brien’s firearm, went upstairs and was to fire it out the window if Mr O’Brien raised his hand, Mr O’Higgins said.

Mr O’Higgins said Mr O’Brien contacted Mr Wells because he was worried about the incident with Flemo.

He knew Mr Wells to see through the Ardclough garage and that “Paul Wells was a republican and an IRA man”, Mr O’Higgins said.

He asked Ms Dunne if this was correct and she said she did not know his motivation for contacting Mr Wells. She “took it that” Mr Wells was a republican.

Mr O’Higgins said she had discussed Mr O’Brien’s affair with someone who called to the house, and Mr O’Brien “placed a voice-activated tape recorder” to record her conversation.

Mr O’Higgins asked if she was surprised.

“No, not really, he was into gadgets,” she replied.

Mr O’Brien had a relationship in Australia with a woman from Douglas, Cork between July 2013 and March or April 2014, the court heard.

Ms Dunne said she had had a “feeling something was going on.”

They moved in together and in March 2014, Mr O’Brien and this woman went on a holiday to Bali. The relationship ended shortly after.

Mr O’Higgins asked if Mr O’Brien had said anything about his boss in Australia being heavily involved in drugs and drug supply. She said he had not, although he had mentioned prostitutes.

She thought Mr O’Brien had mentioned the company was struggling but she did not hear anything about “Ken dropping money to biker gangs.”

In December 2015, she said, Mr O’Brien wanted to come home to his son and she thought he was “happy enough to come home.”

Asked about a text in which she said she was “at the end of her tether” at the time, she said Mr O’Brien had made a final decision and that was why he was getting his things sent home.

She said she was nervous but glad he was coming back and missed him.

The trial continues.

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