'Love Rival' trial: 'Tank was opened at least 11 days before body found'
The sealed tank in which the remains of Bobby Ryan lay was opened "at least 11 days" before the alleged discovery of his body, an expert witness has told the murder trial.
Forensic entomologist Dr John Manlove said it was his opinion that Mr Ryan's body had remained in the tank "for most if not all of the time" since he went missing in June 2011.
Patrick Quirke (50), of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Ryan (52) on a date between June 3, 2011, and April 2013.
Dr Manlove, who is based in the UK, explained to the jury that he specialises in the study of insects and certain invertebrates to help in investigations, particularly regarding suspicious deaths.
He told the trial at the Central Criminal Court that the body had not been exposed to insect activity for a long time.
He was engaged by An Garda Síochána to work on the case in 2014, he said. Specifically, he was asked whether an insect infestation had commenced in 2011 or in 2013.
Dr Manlove had access to evidence at the technical bureau in Dublin, as well as photographs from the crime scene and the post-mortem examination.
He also visited the scene and examined the tank at Fawnagowan, Co Tipperary, in September 2014, he told the trial.
Dr Manlove explained that blow flies such as bluebottles are attracted by chemicals immediately produced by the body as it changes from life to death.
Factors which can delay this include poor weather conditions, or the body being indoors or securely wrapped, buried or submerged, he said.
In his report for the prosecution, he concluded that the insect infestation of Mr Ryan's remains took place "at least 11 days or possibly longer" before the discovery of the body was reported to gardaí on April 30, 2013.
From his examination of a single larva and from looking at photographs of the body, he was able to estimate its age and stage in the life cycle, he explained to the court.
If the body had been open to infestation for weeks or months, he would have expected to see 'quite a different pattern' of insect damage, he said.
"In my opinion, the body was not exposed to insect activity for a long time," said Dr Manlove, adding that his findings were in keeping with the remains being in the tank for most if not all the time since Mr Ryan was last seen.
He told the court he had estimated that the tank had been opened a minimum of 11 days beforehand but that it could have been longer than this.
He said the first time the tank was opened was not April 30, 2013 - since access must have been allowed for the flies to enter. Under cross examination by Lorcan Staines SC for the defence, Dr Manlove said the best practice at the scene of a suspicious death is to leave the body in situ to allow for the examination by experts.
Trace evidence can be lost in the transfer of the body into a body bag, which might be crucial, he said.
He said he had worked on "between 400 and 500" cases.
Asked if he had ever been to a crime scene prior to the body being moved, Dr Manlove said "many times".
"It became less ordinary as the years went on and entomology became less of something that people wished to investigate," he said.
"It was a negative development that led to very unsatisfactory exams and one of the reasons I stopped practising full time," he told the court.
Asked if it was his view that entomologists should be on the scene prior, even, to a pathologist, Dr Manlove replied: "No, pathologists get very cross, but in some cases, yes."
Put to him that there was a gap of about 8cm at the top of the tank, Dr Manlove was asked what sort of size of a gap would be required to allow an adult fly to enter, and replied four to five millimetres.
Dr Manlove agreed the tank must have been sealed for a long period of time.
He also agreed that if the body was there all along, the environment in the tank must have changed from being sealed to being open 5mm or more.
Mr Staines put it to him that the jury will hear about an interview Mr Quirke gave in May 2013 where he said that in or around the time Mary Lowry's father died, around March 12 or 13, 2013, a water leak in the old milking parlour took place for about two days.
If the leak caused 20,000 litres of water to saturate the area of the tank and created an opening of at least five millimetres, would the time frame as the 'opening event' be reasonably possible, Mr Staines asked.
Dr Manlove agreed that it would be possible.
Michael Bowman SC, for the prosecution, concluding his questioning, asked Dr Manlove if he had ever conducted an examination wearing "full biohazard suits and two sets of masks". The entymologist replied that he had not.
Michael Reilly, consultant forensic engineer, told the court that he examined the tank at Fawnagowan. He described the land as flat, undulating lowland which forms part of the Golden Vale.
He described it as "premium quality agricultural land in excellent condition", and "less than 3pc" of Ireland comprised this sort of land.
Mr Reilly described the underground tank as having been built in the 1970s, at the same time as the milking parlour was constructed.
Its function was to collect the dirty water washed down from the parlour at the end of milking twice a day, he said.
The tank was constructed of cavity blocks on top of a concrete base, with each block hollow.
It measured 3.6 metres by 1.8 metres and 1.6 metres deep, the engineer said. At full capacity it would hold 10,368 litres of water.
On February 6, 2014, he started a test which ran over two days, pumping the entire water supply of the farm at Fawnagowan into the tank. Mr Reilly noted that it was also raining heavily at this time. He measured the level of water in the tank and found that although he had pumped in more than 21,000 litres, the tank held at its maximum 4,212 litres.
Over the two days it lost more than 17,000 litres because, he said, the tank was too porous to hold it.
"Once it reached a certain position, it was going out of the tank as quickly as it was coming in," he said.
Mr Reilly told the trial slurry would mix with the water in the milking parlour and over time slurry would build up in the tank. "The tank would have to be emptied on a periodic basis like a slurry tank," he said. The trial continues.