Monday 20 November 2017

Married man beat mum of three to death with hammer over sexual blackmail bid, court told

Accused Roy Webster: Admits manslaughter but denies murder. Photo: Collins Courts
Accused Roy Webster: Admits manslaughter but denies murder. Photo: Collins Courts

Andrew Phelan

A married man beat a mother-of-three to death with a hammer after she threatened to "reveal all" about a sexual encounter they had, the Central Criminal Court has been told.

Roy Webster (39) struck Anne Shortall (47) about the head when she made the threat after saying she was pregnant and asking him to pay for an abortion.

Mr Webster, a father-of-two, tied her up after the assault and drove her to his home in his van, leaving her body in his work shed while he spent the weekend with his family.

Ms Shortall owed thousands in rent arrears and unpaid bills at the time she was killed, a lawyer for the prosecution said.

The jury heard gardaí found the body four days later after the accused made admissions.

Mr Webster, of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow, denies murdering Ms Shortall on April 3, 2015, at The Murrough, also in Wicklow. He has admitted her manslaughter.

Anne Shortall: Owed thousands in rent arrears and unpaid bills.
Anne Shortall: Owed thousands in rent arrears and unpaid bills.

Paul Greene SC, prosecuting, said Ms Shortall had three adult children and had been going through a divorce. At the time, Mr Webster had a four-year-old daughter and his son was born some weeks before the alleged crime.

On December 20, 2014, he was out with friends for a meal and drinks and was seen in conversation with Ms Shortall.

The court heard they had a sexual encounter back in her flat and he got a taxi home to his family early the following morning. "That was that" and events went on with "some degree of telephonic contact" and efforts made by Ms Shortall to get in touch with Mr Webster almost exactly two years ago, Mr Greene said.

She tried to make contact on Facebook and by calling his landline.

"It would appear that Ms Shortall was in a very difficult place financially; she had very significant arrears of rent on her accommodation in Wicklow, leading to increasing demands on her by the agent of her landlord," Mr Greene said.

Ms Shortall had significant debts - a "couple of thousand euros" in rent arrears and the same on her ESB bill, Mr Greene said. Her own means of support had fallen away; her children were adults and she was no longer married.

In contact with Mr Webster, she indicated that she had become pregnant by their encounter at Christmas time, she wanted to terminate the pregnancy and she wanted financial assistance.

It would be alleged Mr Webster requested proof from Ms Shortall that she was pregnant and that he was responsible.

They arranged to meet on the afternoon of April 3, the day of the "fateful occurrence".

The accused was a skilled craftsman and used a silver van with his name and business name on it.

Mr Greene said on April 3 he was working in Wicklow and was to be paid the balance on an account. By an "unfortunate coincidence" that was Good Friday, the banks were closed and the realisation dawned on Mr Webster and the person for whom he was working that the balance could not be discharged, Mr Greene continued.

Read more: Married man whose wife was pregnant 'beat woman to death after she threatened to reveal affair' - court hears

That day he also had to pick up a book for his daughter for her birthday and there would be evidence that he was in Wicklow Town until about 2pm.

This time was "significant" because "the next thing we know about" Mr Webster was that his van arrived back about 3.40pm, the court heard.

The prosecution would say the defendant and Ms Shortall arranged by text to meet near the Leitrim Lounge pub, not far from the industrial area known as the Murrough. There would be evidence that the two travelled down to the Murrough and were observed by an eyewitness in conversation.

"It appears there was a disagreement with respect to the question of the pregnancy and the question of whether the money should be paid over," Mr Greene said. "It will be alleged that threats were made by the late Ms Shortall that she was going to reveal all about their encounter."

The argument continued and Ms Shortall was struck on the head by Mr Webster a couple of times.

"It appears that in the van, Mr Webster secured her hands behind her back with duct tape and put duct tape around her head and other parts of her body," Mr Greene said.

It would be alleged he transported her back to the "work premises contiguous with his home".

Efforts were made by Ms Shortall's family to find "their mother, their sister".

The lead they had was the accused's number which was on Ms Shortall's phone.

He was interviewed on April 6 and gave a witness statement to gardaí, then admitted to them on April 7 that "the late Ms Shortall's remains were down in his work station".

Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, said Mr Webster admitted he assaulted Ms Shortall and was responsible for her death.

It was admitted he lied in his initial contacts with Anne Shortall's family and with the gardaí.

A mechanic, Jamie Shortt, said after the Christmas night out, Mr Webster told him "he went to a party and stayed on a couch and went home the next day".

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

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