Saturday 25 November 2017

Murder accused killed Laois nanny because pregnancy 'scuppered' former relationship

Robert Corbet being led into court, inset left, Mr Corbet, inset right Aoife Phelan
Robert Corbet being led into court, inset left, Mr Corbet, inset right Aoife Phelan

Natasha Reid

The man charged with murdering Laois nanny Aoife Phelan told detectives that he killed her because her pregnancy was going to scupper his relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

The jury in Robert Corbet’s trial today heard extracts from the interviews he gave gardai after her body was discovered on his property.

The 25-year-old from Capoley, Sheffield Cross, Laois has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Phelan. However he has admitted the 30-year-old’s manslaughter between October 25th and November 7th, when her body was found in a barrel, buried in Capoley.

The Central Criminal Court heard last week that Mr Corbet first denied involvement in her disappearance, but admitted killing her after phone records were put to him. He said he had snapped and hit her while in his jeep and had thrown her body in a river.

However, the trial heard that his property was searched and her body was discovered in a barrel buried about 10-feet deep. He apologised for sending gardai to the river, but said he had wanted ‘to protect the home place’.

Detective Garda Brian Hanley testified yesterday that he interviewed the accused on November 7th, hours after Ms Phelan’s body was found.

The accused said he had collected her in Portlaoise on the evening of October 25th and brought her to Capoley and that they had chatted in a garage while he cleaned out his jeep.

“Then an argument broke out about our relationship. She wanted a relationship and I didn't,” he said. “If I didn’t agree…, she’d ruin my life, which, as I sit here, is ironic.”

He said he snapped, put his right forearm around her neck and that they fell to the ground. He said she banged her head and he saw blood coming from her eye.

“I had a good, firm grip,” he said.

“What were you trying to do?” he was asked.

“Kill her,” he replied.

He was asked what he thought the end result of placing his arm around her neck would be.

“Death,” he replied.

He was later asked why she had died.

“I strangled her,” he replied.

He was asked why.

“She was forward about our relationship and giving me agro about it,” he said.

He said he started to panic when she didn’t move. He said he realised she was dead and saw an empty barrel. He put a black sack over her head.

“I put two cable ties around it,” he said.

He was asked why he had put the bag over her head.

“I wasn’t sure she was dead so I wanted to make sure,” he said. “It was as if I had this fear that she was going to come back to life.”

He was asked if he had wanted her to come back to life.

“No,” he replied.

He said he put her in the barrel, sealed it and left it in the shed overnight. The following morning, he drove it over to a large hole he had dug a few weeks earlier and rolled it in.

D Gda Conor Murphy said he interviewed the accused the following morning, November 8th.

“I was looking forward to seeing her, getting things sorted, to see where we stood,” he had said of their arranged meeting that night. “She seemed to be in good form.”

“When I mentioned I was going to New York, she flipped,” he said. “I think it was more to do with me going to Caitriona.”

The court has already heard that Mr Corbet flew to New York to visit his ex-girlfriend on a pre-planned trip the following evening.

“I wanted everything sorted with Aoife, where we stood so I could tell Caitriona,” he said.

He was asked if Ms Phelan was an obstacle.

“She was an obstacle, but nothing that couldn’t be talked out,” he replied.

It was suggested that he had never intended for Ms Phelan to leave his yard that night.

“Are you trying to say this was pre-meditated?” he asked in reply.

He agreed that he knew the large hole in his land was going to be covered and was asked if he wanted her to be found.

“In some sense no,” he replied.

When asked why, he said: ‘fear of the consequences’.

“When you had a hold of her in the shed, did you want her dead?” he was asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

He was asked why.

“She was a complication with everything that was said that night,” he said. “I got a grip of her and couldn’t stop.”

He agreed that she was a big barrier to him getting back together with his ex-girlfriend.

“The pregnancy was going to scupper it, the love of your life. Is that why you killed Aoife Phelan?” he was asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“And this was the problem out of the way?” asked the detectives.

“Yes,” he said.

The trial continues before a jury and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan.

The jury earlier saw the plastic bag bearing the accused man’s palm print and two cable ties, which were found around Ms Phelan’s head and neck.

Detective Sergeant Colm Reilly of the Garda Technical Bureau testified that he attended the post-mortem exam on Ms Phelan’s body from which two black cable ties and a black plastic bag were recovered. He held them up in the witness box for the jury to see.

Fingerprint expert Detective James Cunningham showed the court photographs of Mr Phelan’s left palm print. He also showed photographs of the palm print found on the black plastic bag, which had been around Ms Phelan’s head.

“I had no doubt that the palm mark on the black bag was made by the left palm print of Robert Corbet,” he said.

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