Wednesday 21 March 2018

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

  • Wicklow murder trial begins
  • Married man allegedly beat woman to death after she threatened to reveal affair
  • Anne Shortall 'told Roy Webster she was pregnant, asked him to pay for abortion'
  • Shortall 'owed thousands at time she was killed'

Roy Webster (38) with an address at Ashbre, Killoughter ,Co Wicklow pictured at a previous court appearance.(Image: Collins Courts)
Roy Webster (38) with an address at Ashbre, Killoughter ,Co Wicklow pictured at a previous court appearance.(Image: Collins Courts)
Anne Shortall: Owed thousands in rent arrears and unpaid bills

Andrew Phelan

A married cabinet maker 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 asked him to pay for an abortion.

Mr Webster, a father-of-two, tied her up after the assault and brought her home, leaving her body in his workstation in a 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 gardai found the body four days later when the accused made admissions.

Paul Greene SC was delivering his opening speech as Mr Webster went on trial today.

State Pathologist Marie Cassidy at the scene where the body of Anne Shortall, inset, was found
State Pathologist Marie Cassidy at the scene where the body of Anne Shortall, inset, was found

Mr Webster admits the manslaughter of Ms Shortall but denies her murder.

Mr Webster of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow is accused of murdering Ms Shortall on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, also in Wicklow.

Mr Greene said it would be alleged that Mr Webster used a hammer to inflict serious injuries resulting in the death of Ms Shortall.

The blows were about her head and Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis would give evidence that there were “likely nine blows by a hammer to the head” although it was suggested by the defence that there were fewer.

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

Mr Greene said Ms Shortall was a separated woman with three adult children and had been in the process of divorcing her husband.

This afternoon, a mechanic, Jamie Shortt, said in evidence he had worked with the accused and they were among a group of five people who went out for a Christmas work “do” on the night of December 20, 2014.

He met his ex-boss Robert Fox, and the accused in the Woodpecker in Ashford for dinner and drinks. His father and another man met them and they went to another pub, The Bridge before ending up in The Forge.

It was a busy night and he did not see much of the accused there but did see him talking to a woman just inside the door. He did not recall who she was or what she looked like.

They were still there when Mr Shortt left.

Some time later, Mr Shortt and Mr Webster were working in a garage together and had some “chit chat.” Mr Shortt asked him about what he did that night.

“He said he went to a party and stayed on a couch and went home the next day,” Mr Shortt said.

Cross-examined by Brendan Grehan SC, defending, Mr Shortt said it had been a “normal Christmas do” and he and the others had had “a good lot to drink.”

He said he did not really know the accused that well but agreed he described him in a statement as 100pc and genuine.

“He came across as OK,” he told the court.

Mr Webster was a married man who had a four year old daughter and his wife was pregnant with their son at the time.

The case had its “genesis” in events that took place on December 20, 2014, Mr Greene said. Mr Webster was with friends for a meal and drinks in a pub and was seen to engage in a conversation with Ms Shortall.

They had a sexual encounter back in her flat and he got a taxi back 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 through a mutual acquaintance 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.

He 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.

They arranged to meet on the afternoon of April 3, the day of the “fateful occurrence.” It would be alleged Mr Webster requested some proof from Ms Shortall that he was responsible for the pregnancy and that she was indeed pregnant.

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.

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 “likely to be twice.”

“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 locate “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 gardai. When suspicions focused on him, he admitted to them in April 7 that “the late Ms Shortall’s remains were down in his work station.”

The gardai went there and the remains were found.

Mr Greene advised the jury that the accused is presumed innocent of the murder charge.

Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, then made a number of admissions on behalf of Mr Webster.

Among these, he admitted that he met Ms Shortall by arrangement outside the Leitrim Lounge and drove her a short distance away to the Murrough.

He admitted that there he assaulted Ms Shortall and was responsible for her death.   He admitted tying her hands in front of her with tape and also put tape on her head.

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

The trial, which is expected to take two weeks, continues before Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and a jury of five women and seven men.

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