Thursday 23 May 2019

'Love rival' trial: Bobby Ryan likely to have died from blunt force trauma to the head, court hears

Patrick Quirke (50), of Breanshamore, Co. Tipperary, at court. PIC: Collins Courts
Patrick Quirke (50), of Breanshamore, Co. Tipperary, at court. PIC: Collins Courts

Eoin Reynolds

Bobby Ryan probably died from blunt force trauma to the head that caused bleeding to the brain, a pathologist has told the Patrick Quirke murder trial.

The court also heard that it is possible that Mr Ryan's body was placed rather that thrown into the tank where it was found 22 months after he went missing.

Professor Jack Crane, a consultant pathologist and former State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, today told prosecuting counsel Michael Bowman SC that he reviewed a post mortem carried out by Dr Khalid Jaber following the discovery of Mr Ryan's body in 2013. The court has previously heard that Dr Jaber is not available to give evidence.

Using Dr Jaber's report and photos taken at the post mortem Professor Crane identified fractures to Mr Ryan's head, nine of his ribs and the femur or thigh bone. The level of decomposition was consistent with death "some time" earlier and it was "entirely plausible" that he died on or about June 3, 2011 - the date he went missing.

Professor Jack Crane, former state pathologist for Northern Ireland, leaving court yesterday after giving evidence in the trial of Patrick Quirke. PIC: Collins Courts
Professor Jack Crane, former state pathologist for Northern Ireland, leaving court yesterday after giving evidence in the trial of Patrick Quirke. PIC: Collins Courts

Professor Crane was giving evidence in the trial of Patrick Quirke (50) of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary who has pleaded not guilty to the murder of part-time DJ Bobby Ryan. Mr Ryan went missing on June 3, 2011 after leaving his girlfriend Mary Lowry's home at about 6.30am. His body was found in an underground run-off tank on the farm owned by Ms Lowry and leased by the accused at Fawnagown, Tipperary 22 months later in April 2013. The prosecution claims Mr Quirke murdered Mr Ryan so he could rekindle an affair with Ms Lowry (52).

Professor Crane saw relatively limited insect infestation, consistent with the body having been inside the sealed tank rather than exposed to the outside environment. The deterioration of fatty tissue into a crumbly, cheese-like substance was, he said, consistent with the body having been in damp or wet conditions.

He said Mr Ryan had sustained "severe head injuries", fractures to the skull in the region of the forehead, eye sockets, right and left sides of the face and the cheek bones. The severity of those injuries was such, he said, that they could not have been caused by a simple fall into the tank. They were, he said, due to blows to the head with a blunt object or as a result of being crushed or compressed and would have caused bleeding and damage to the brain causing death.

He noted that Dr Jaber referred to an injury to the Adam's apple that would be consistent with asphyxiation but Professor Crane said there was no "unequivocal" evidence that death was due to asphyxiation. The rib fractures - six to the right of the torso and three to the left - could have been caused by a blow to the back or by falling into the tank, Professor Crane said.

The fracture to the thigh bone, the strongest bone in the body, was consistent, he said, with a heavy blow from a bat. He said it was possible but unlikely that the leg injury was caused by a fall into the tank.

He noted a suggestion that the injuries could have been caused by a motor vehicle collision but Professor Crane said: "While this is possible there is no real evidence to support this."

Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan

In a supplemental report drawn up recently Professor Crane responded to a report by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis. He said Dr Curtis had found that the head injuries could have been caused by impact with a vehicle or multiple blows. The rib injuries, Dr Curtis said, could have been the result of impact with a vehicle or other blunt force and could have occurred after death. Dr Curtis had also found that the injury to the femur was unlikely to have been caused by direct blows from a blunt instrument.

Professor Crane said the combination of injuries was not consistent with a vehicle impact. Usually, he said, leg injuries caused by vehicle impacts occur below the knee, although he accepted that the height of the victim and other factors would have to be taken into account. He also noted that pedestrians struck by cars usually suffer a single head impact when they hit the ground which would not cause multiple fractures to the skull as seen in this case.

He added that injuries such as the fracture  to Mr Ryan's thigh bone are "not uncommon" in punishment style attacks in Northern Ireland where baseball bats or other blunt objects are used.

Under cross examination Professor Crane told Lorcan Staines SC for the defence that unlike Dr Jaber, he would have attended the scene before Bobby Ryan's body was removed from the tank. By doing so, he said, he would be able to conduct a preliminary examination, advise those removing the body and note any damage done to the body during removal. In this case, he said, he would also have made a note of the adult flies that were photographed on the body and would have made a note of whether maggots seen on the body were alive or dead.

He said he did not think there was any need to rush the removal of Mr Ryan's body from the tank and agreed that you only get "one chance to get it right". He added: "The scene is crucial."

Professor Crane also detailed a procedure whereby every pathologist's report is peer reviewed. He said that had Dr Jaber's report been peer reviewed, there would have been questions about at least one of the assumptions he made regarding the effects of toxicity levels in the tank. Professor Crane agreed there was no evidence of toxicity in the tank and that Dr Jaber had made an incorrect assumption. He also said that he finds the language in Dr Jaber's reports "confusing" , adding that this may be because English is not Dr Jaber's first language.

Trial: Patrick Quirke with wife Imelda outside court. Photo: Collins
Trial: Patrick Quirke with wife Imelda outside court. Photo: Collins

He went on to say that it would have been helpful if Dr Jaber had examined the skull in more detail. The decomposition of the body was such that there was limited information available and further examination of the skull would be a "key element" he said, adding: "More should have been done."

The witness said he only found out in February or March of this year that concrete had fallen onto the body when gardai used a digger to lift a large concrete slab that covered most of the tank. If he had known he would have asked for information about the nature, size and weight of the fragments to determine if they could have caused any of the damage seen on the body.

Professor Crane further agreed that it would have been difficult for the body to end up where it was found if it was thrown into the tank. The body, he agreed, was not underneath the two removable slabs that covered a portion of the tank and were the only means of gaining access to it. He also agreed that the arms were in an unnatural position. While he agreed that this meant it was "possible" that the body was placed rather than thrown, he also suggested that water in the tank may have caused the body to move.

Mr Staines asked the witness about the scene of death, as opposed to the scene where the body was found. Professor Crane said the injuries sustained by Mr Ryan were such that there would have been significant bleeding. If a weapon was used he would expect to see cast-off blood patterns over the wider area and pooling of blood where the body lay.

Earlier the jury heard from forensic anthropologist Dr Rene Gapert who told Mr Bowman that he identified human and animal bones and an animal's tooth found in the tank alongside Bobby Ryan. Dr Gapert also told the court he was "doubtful" that the fracture to Mr Ryan's femur could have been caused by pieces of concrete falling onto it when gardai removed the slab.

Dr Gapert told prosecution counsel Michael Bowman SC that he was asked in January this year to examine bones, nails and a tooth retrieved from the tank by gardai to establish if they were human or non-human remains. He was presented with two cylinders containing the fragments. Inside the first there were 49 bones, a tooth and one toe or finger nail that possibly belonged to a human. Of the 49 bones only one was human. The tooth was non-human.

The human bone was the middle bone of a finger and most likely belonged to an adult. He couldn't identify the gender or age. The second cylinder contained 19 bones, eight of which were human and three possibly human finger or toe nails.

The human bones consisted of different parts of the left and right hands. He identified bones from the tips of the thumbs, middle part of the hand and the tip of a toe, possibly from the left foot.

In his overview and summary he said the bones were most likely from a single adult of undetermined age, gender or height. He saw no evidence of physical trauma and on examining what tissue was present he found that the person had died at least a year before the remains were found in the tank and possibly more than two years before.

Under cross examination Dr Gapert told defence counsel Lorcan Staines SC that he was not requested to attend the scene in 2013 when Mr Ryan's body was found. He said he would have attended had he been requested and has attended scenes in the past. He previously helped identify victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, bodies found in Berlin dating back to World War II and at a house fire in Derrylin, Fermanagh in February 2018 that claimed the lives of four people.

He said it is normal for forensic anthropologists, pathologists and police to work together to form a plan when recovering bodies. He agreed with Mr Staines that in the case of Bobby Ryan, where his body was found in a tank, he could see no reason why there would be time pressure on investigators to remove the body.

Looking at a photograph of a fracture identified to Mr Ryan's femur he said he was "doubtful" as to whether that could have been caused by pieces of concrete falling onto it. He said the femur is the strongest bone in the body and without examining the debris that fell onto the body he could not say for certain if the pieces he saw were capable of causing the fracture.

The trial continues in front of Justice Eileen Creedon and a jury of six men and six women.

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