Tuesday 23 July 2019

Murder accused Paul Wells initially told gardai he felt Kenneth O'Brien had 'done a runner', trial hears

Tragic: Kenneth O’Brien, who was shot and dismembered
Tragic: Kenneth O’Brien, who was shot and dismembered
Kenneth’s partner Eimear Dunne. Photo: Collins
Kenneth O'Brien
Grim find: Gardaí at the scene on the canal near Sallins, Co Kildare, where the remains of Kenneth O’Brien were found. Photo: Colin Keegan
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

MURDER accused Paul Wells initially told gardai the last time he saw Kenneth O’Brien was over a cup of coffee days before he went missing and his gut instinct when he found out he was gone was that he had “done a runner.”

Mr Wells, who has admitted killing Mr O’Brien and dismembering his body, told detectives when he was first questioned that Mr O’Brien had been “living like a king” in Australia, and hated being home in Ireland.

The jury in his trial heard memos of two of the interviews he gave gardai after he was arrested on suspicion of Mr O’Brien’s murder.

Mr Wells (50), of Barnamore Park, Finglas, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr O’Brien (33) at that address between January 15 and 16, 2016.

He has admitted he shot him dead but said it happened when they struggled during a row after Mr O’Brien turned up at his home with a gun.

The accused claimed Mr O’Brien had wanted to have his own partner Eimear Dunne murdered and Mr Wells refused to kill her.

He said after he shot Mr O’Brien, he “panicked” and dismembered the remains, which were later found in a suitcase and shopping bags in the canal in Co Kildare.

Now-retired Detective Garda Declan O’Brien gave evidence as the first interview was read out to the jury by Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting.

The court heard the interview was carried out on February 6, 2016 at Naas Garda Station.

Mr Wells told gardai he had worked as a truck driver but was unemployed and had five children and six grandchildren. He asked for two headache tablets during the interview.

Mr Wells told gardai his own car was off the road and he only drove his wife’s Audi A3.

Asked about Mr O’Brien, he said “he was my friend” and that they met through a garage. Mr O’Brien was a car enthusiast, he said.

Mr O’Brien had been having an affair at the time and “he turned to me about that… we struck up a friendship and became very close.”

He said Mr O’Brien “eventually got caught” by Ms Dunne and “there was murder - trouble between them.”

Mr Wells also told gardai about an altercation after that in which a man came to Mr O’Brien’s house and a legally held rifle was pointed out the bedroom window.

Mr O’Brien would show him “pictures of girls he was with” and “some of them were distasteful,” he said.

He said Mr O’Brien had fallen out with a man he worked with because the man had discussed an affair with Ms Dunne.

For a couple of months, it looked like Mr O’Brien and Ms Dunne were not going to stay together. He told gardai about a text in which Mr O’Brien had allegedly asked the woman he was having an affair with to “get Eimear to hit her” and have Ms Dunne charged. Mr Wells said he stayed out of it, never got involved and tried to be friends with both of them.

Mr O’Brien had “a roving eye,” he said.

Mr Wells said he never met the woman Mr O'Brien had the affair with, and she lived a couple of doors away from Mr O’Brien.

The affair seemed to blow over and they got on with their lives, but Ms Dunne had felt betrayed, Mr Wells continued in the interview.

He said one night, Mr O’Brien had “this girl” in his car, “showing off” and he rolled it, “totally trashing it.” They were “lucky to get out of it.”

Mr O’Brien later reported it stolen, put in an insurance claim and got €10,000, Mr Wells told gardai.

He continued to get on as friends with Mr O’Brien and stayed in contact with him when he went to work in Australia. Asked if Mr O’Brien sent him pictures of women while he was there, Mr Wells told gardai “unfortunately, yeah.”

He said Mr O'Brien had a number of relationships there and “I don’t condone that behaviour”, adding that he had been with his own wife for 33 years.

Mr O’Brien “could be secretive, he would tell you what he wanted to tell you,” he said.

He had “no empathy but if you asked him to do something, pull out an engine, he would do it,” Mr Wells told gardai.

“He got carried away with the bright lights of Perth - he didn’t want to come home,” he said.

Mr O’Brien was “very quiet, very withdrawn” when he returned home in 2015, Mr Wells said.

He was “vague” about plans and when Ms Dunne asked Mr Wells about it, the accused said he told her Mr O’Brien “should have told her where she stood.”

Mr O’Brien had said “why the f**k would anyone want to live here” and “Eimear was watching him like a hawk.”

Mr Wells said Mr O’Brien told him he did not think he would stay and he wanted to “get Christmas over with.”

He “had everything over there” and was “living like a king” with “constant good weather, playing around to his heart’s content.”

He knew Ms Dunne found it hard to get money out of Mr O’Brien, he told gardai, and she had to do everything on her own.

Asked when he last saw Mr O’Brien, he said it was the Monday before he went missing - January 11, 2016.

He was at Mr O’Brien’s house from around 10.30am for about an hour and a half and they had a “general chat” in the kitchen. He said Mr O’Brien was quiet, he left the room twice to take calls and it was “hard to get conversation out of him.”

Mr O’Brien was on an iPhone 5, although he normally used an iPhone 6, Mr Wells continued.

One of their conversations was about a “girl from Rwanda” Mr O’Brien said he was having an affair with and an altercation in which he gave “a guy a couple of thumps.”

He said Mr O’Brien showed him pictures of a woman called Anna “striking a pose.” One was in a wildlife park with a ranger but most were of “Anna and her body.”

He printed 10 of these photos with the intention of giving them to Ms Dunne and put them in his wardrobe.

Asked if Mr O’Brien had any enemies, he told gardai: “Kenneth was volatile with drink, he would pick on the biggest fella in the room.”

There were people he would “have run ins with,” he said.

Mr O’Brien had had a legally held rifle and after he went to Australia it was put in a gun shop and his gave Mr Wells the gun cabinet, he told gardai.

He said Mr O’Brien also told him in August 2015, he was approached by a neighbour who asked him to put shelves up and he ended up having sex with her.

He said Mr O’Brien “thought it was funny.”

In cross-examination, Det Gda O’Brien agreed with Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, that it was not unusual for people to hold back in earlier interviews before disclosing material later.

Det Sgt Martin Long was in the witness box as Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting, read out the memo of Mr Wells second interview, held later on the same day.

He said he would not say he had been a father figure to Mr O’Brien, “I would say elder brother.”

He said Mr O’Brien had confided in him about affairs he had and prostitutes he was with.

Mr Wells told gardai Mr O’Brien’s boss in Australia was “a bit of a boyo” - prostitutes, drugs, “the whole nine yards,” he said.

He said Mr O’Brien himself was not involved in drugs or gambling.

“He got carried away with the bright lights,” he said. “When he worked hard he would make sure he rewarded himself.”

He said Mr O’Brien would be “cavalier about it.”

He said Mr O’Brien said of Ireland that he “hated the place” but missed his son Charlie.

“He had no emotion, no empathy,” Mr Wells said.

He got the the impression that things were financially so bad for Ms Dunne that she was trying to sell her furniture.

Mr Wells said Mr O’Brien told him he was paying money to a child in Cork but he did not delve into that.

“One minute you would know where you stood with him, the next, he would clam up,” Mr Wells said of Mr O'Brien.

He said his conversations with Ms Dunne would always turn to Kenneth and she would be “digging for information.”

The accused said he was loyal to friends and family. Asked if Mr O’Brien was ever violent to Ms Dunne, he said: “I don’t know, he was a bit of a headcase to be honest.”

“He was volatile, he could turn on a whim,” he said, be he never saw him violent to Ms Dunne.

“I imagine she would give as good as she got,” he added.

On the day Mr O’Brien went missing, his wife told him Ms Dunne was looking for him and he called her. He was told Ms Dunne had collapsed while they were on the phone so he went to her house and “for once in my life I broke” and showed her the pictures on his phone.

The next day Ms Dunne asked to meet him and he showed her the photos again as there was no point in hiding.

“The poor girl was in tears and truth be told, so was I,” he told gardai.

Mr Wells told gardai Mr O’Brien used to say he would “treat her like mushrooms - keep her in the dark and fill her full of bullshit.”

He said he was last in Ardclough - where Mr O’Brien had had a garage- “a long time ago,” probably not since 2009,  and he would have no reason to go up there.

Gardai asked him what his gut instinct was when Ms Dunne told him Mr O’Brien was missing.

“Done a runner,” he replied.

The trial continues before a jury and Mr Justice Paul McDermott.

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