Sunday 20 October 2019

'Love rival' trial: Defence tells jury it cannot convict on the basis of computer searches

Defence says 'no hard evidence' against Patrick Quirke, and questions garda investigation

Patrick Quirke arrives at court with wife Imelda. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Patrick Quirke arrives at court with wife Imelda. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

THE jury in the Tipperary “love rival” murder trial has been told it cannot convict someone on the basis of computer searches.

The barrister defending Patrick Quirke said there was “no hard evidence” his client murdered Bobby Ryan, a part-time DJ also known as Mr Moonlight.

Bernard Condon SC asked the jury to apply fairness when considering Google searches which were conducted on Mr Quirke’s computer for “DNA” and “human body decomposition timeline”.

The searches took place months before Mr Ryan’s body was found in an underground tank at a farm in Co Tipperary in April 2013.

On the third and final day of his closing statement at the Central Criminal Court, Mr Condon told the jury of six men and six women they should be aware of the “substantial limitations” of the computer evidence.

He said the jury could not say the searches were linked to the murder case.

Mary Lowry. Photo: Collins
Mary Lowry. Photo: Collins

The barrister also said there was “a great risk of an enormous leap being made” by the jury, when the height of the prosecution’s case was that the searches were suspicious.

Mr Condon said people do the strangest things on computers and this was just a fact of life.

If Mr Quirke was the killer, as the prosecution alleges, and wanted to know what condition the body was in, he could have lifted the lid on the tank to look, the defence barrister said.

Mr Condon also played down the significance of searches of the RTÉ website for news about Mr Ryan.

“I don’t think there was a person in Tipperary who didn’t look up Bobby Ryan,” said Mr Condon. 

Mr Quirke (50), of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his alleged love rival Mr Ryan (52) on a date between June 3, 2011, and April 2013.

The prosecution alleges Mr Quirke killed Mr Ryan so he could rekindle his affair with Mary Lowry, the widow whose farm Mr Quirke was leasing.

She was Mr Ryan’s girlfriend at the time of his disappearance.

The trial has heard Mr Ryan left Ms Lowry’s house at Fawnagown, Co Tipperary at 6.30am on the morning of June 3, 2011 and his body was discovered in an underground tank on the farm 22 months later.

Mr Condon told the jury a note made on a piece of A4 paper found in Mr Quirke’s house was “of very little relevance” to the case.

The prosecution has suggested the note was written prior to Mr Quirke being questioned by gardaí in April 2013 and that some of what was written was consistent with answers given in that interview.

But Mr Condon told the jury it was more likely it was written afterwards.

The note contained a number of questions about Ms Lowry, including why did she give varying accounts of how long Mr Ryan was in the yard outside her house before he went to work.

“Why wouldn’t Mr Quirke be suspicious of Ms Lowry,” Mr Condon said to the jury.

“You might say he is a nosey parker,” he said, before adding this was a very long way away from finding he was a killer.

He pointed out Mr Quirke had told gardaí he was “inquisitive by nature”.

The barrister said that where there were two versions of events possible on the evidence, the jury had to accept the version favourable to the defence.

Earlier, Mr Condon told the jury there was “no hard evidence” against his client and also raised questions over the garda investigation.

He said the jury had been presented with “a forensically barren landscape” and many unanswered questions.

The defence counsel likened the jury’s job to that of a scientist. He said they had “a huge decision” to make and needed to approach things with scepticism and test the theories put forward.

“You are a safety for all of us citizens to not pass a theory that has not been proven,” he said.

Mr Quirke says he found the body when he was going about agitating slurry, but gardaí believed this was a “staged” discovery.

Mr Condon said the prosecution case seemed to be that it was a planned killing.

But he said Mr Quirke went on a weekend away with his wife to the Heritage Hotel in Co Laois the same day as the disappearance, a trip that was booked well beforehand.

He said that the night before, Mr Quirke attended a meeting at Horse and Jockey in Co Tipperary and appeared to be behaving normally.

The defence barrister said the case being made was that Mr Ryan was administered some sort of beating, that the body was somehow removed and stripped, possibly placed in the tank and blood cleaned away. However, no one heard this taking place, he told the jury.

All of this was said to have been done in a short period, Mr Condon said.

He said the case being made was that the scene was cleaned in some way and that the person who did this was clean to the extent that they got into and drove Mr Ryan’s van away, yet nothing evidential was found in the van.

The defence counsel also spent some time discussing the garda investigation.

“If you are an innocent person, you want the best investigation done,” Mr Condon said.

But he pointed out that prosecution counsel Michael Bowman SC had said the gardaí could have done better when the body was found, that things could have been done differently and a video could have been made of the scene.

Mr Condon said there was no a search at Ms Lowry’s house in Fawnagown at the time of the disappearance. The house was only searched 22 months later after being redecorated.

The barrister said and the Garda sub aqua team should have been used to recover Mr Ryan’s body from the tank and not the fire brigade team that did.

He also criticised the failure of gardaí to keep the water from the tank after it was collected by a vacuum tanker.

Mr Condon said the pathologist who conducted the post-mortem examination, Dr Khalid Jaber, did not go to the scene.

He said Dr Jaber only took one maggot found at the scene for examination.

Dr Jaber, he said, had not come to give evidence in the trial.

Professor Jack Crane, the former State pathologist for Northern Ireland, who appeared as a prosecution witness, “had difficulty reading Dr Jaber’s notes”, Mr Condon said.

He said Dr Michael Curtis, the acting State Pathologist, said the approach taken on the day was “suboptimal”.

Mr Condon said the pathology evidence was important in the case. He said the manner in which Mr Ryan died was an important matter for the jury as they had to test this to see if it fit with other evidence.

He highlighted how the two pathologists who gave evidence differed in their views.

Dr Curtis favoured a vehicle being used to kill Mr Ryan, while allowing that a blunt instrument could have been used.

Prof Crane preferred a blunt instrument, but allowed for the possibility that a vehicle was used.

Mr Condon said the prosecution preferred a theory of blunt force, but it had not nominated any weapon.

The court will not sit again until next Tuesday, when Ms Justice Eileen Creedon will deliver her charge to the jury before it begins its deliberations.

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