Monday 23 October 2017

Murderer's apology worth little to Anne's loved ones

Roy Webster Picture: Collins Courts
Roy Webster Picture: Collins Courts

Andrew Phelan

'I'm sorry.' Murderer Roy Webster mouthed the words to his victim's heartbroken family as they filed out of the courtroom and he was led off to begin a life sentence.

Minutes earlier, his barrister had read similar words out in a two-line apology Webster had written.

If his regret meant anything to Anne Shortall's family, it didn't show on their tear-stained faces. Webster had taken her from them when he battered her to death in a frenzied hammer attack two years ago.

He admitted killing her but denied her murder, claiming he "lost control" in response to her threat to tell his wife about their one-night stand.

While the eight-day trial was not long by Central Criminal Court standards, it must have seemed an eternity for Anne's family as her final moments were relived in harrowing detail.

The unanimous verdict came just before lunchtime: guilty of murder.

Webster sat forward in the dock, staring straight ahead with an eyebrow raised and his mouth gaped open.

Glancing from left to right for a few moments without moving, he then shook his head slightly and bowed it.

Anne's daughter Emma Shortall Picture: Courtpix
Anne's daughter Emma Shortall Picture: Courtpix

Anne Shortall's children Emma, Alanna and David were in court, as was her husband Colin and other family members. A sigh of relief went out from the benches where they sat.

Some wept and others held each others hands on hearing the verdict confirmed by the foreman of the jury.

Webster's now-estranged wife Sinead had lifted her head up and closed her eyes while waiting for the result, then opened them, showing little emotion.

Without communicating with Webster, she left, flanked by her parents and a Garda sergeant.

Shaking his head again in apparent disbelief, Webster was led from the dock by a jailer, dressed in a black suit, white shirt and purple tie and carrying a red anorak on one arm.

Over the course of the trial, the jury heard how Webster met Anne Shortall at the end of a work night out in Wicklow town on December 20, 2014.

They ended up going back to her apartment where they had sex. The following morning he got a taxi home to his family.

Anne, a separated mother of three, was under growing financial pressure at the time, heavily in debt and about to be evicted.

Anne's daughter Alanna Shortall Picture: Courtpix
Anne's daughter Alanna Shortall Picture: Courtpix

She began trying to contact Webster in mid-March, but he was not interested in an affair.

Eventually she texted him: "I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I'm pregnant." They arranged to meet again the following afternoon, Good Friday, April 3.

In his work van at The Murrough in Wicklow Town, they argued over the supposed pregnancy. She wanted money, €5,000, and he wanted proof.

She got out of the van. He opened his door and followed her, he said, to calm her down. Anne threatened to "blow the lid" about their sexual encounter if he did not pay her.

Webster's own account of what happened next was the only version of events available to the jury.

He opened the van's side door and grabbed the first thing to hand - a claw hammer.

He hit Anne in the middle of the forehead with it and she fell back into the van, he said.

He claimed she told him she would "ruin him" and he hit her again and again in a frenzied attack.

He washed his hands with white spirits before driving on.

Webster stopped and tied Anne's wrists with silver duct tape and wrapped the same tape around her head, completely covering her face.

He would later tell gardaí he bound her head to stop the bleeding and her hands in case she "flailed about".

He drove Anne back to his bungalow, leaving her body in his van while he watched TV and fell asleep.

But within hours, Anne's disappearance was noticed and Webster was called by Emma Shortall (22), who had found his number on her mother's phone.

He lied to both Emma and her sister Alanna about what had happened.

That day, the same day Anne was reported missing, Webster and his family went shopping while her body remained in his van at the house.Later, Webster moved her into the workshop.

Easter Sunday was a "pyjama day" for Webster, who watched movies at home with his children.

Garda attention turned to Webster, who lied to them until April 7, as they sat around his kitchen table.

In the trial's most dramatic moment, lead investigator Detective Sergeant Fergus O'Brien described how Sinead Webster prompted her husband, with their baby boy in her arms: "Have you anything to say that you are not saying...Did you hurt her?"

Webster broke down and confessed: "I hit her with a hammer", and led officers to the body in his workshop.

"She put me under so much pressure, I hit her a couple of blows, a mistake that is after ruining so many lives," he told gardaí. "She had me against the wall. Everything I had worked so hard for."

In custody, Webster told gardaí that when he attacked Anne, it had been like he was "looking down at someone else doing it".

He did not know why he brought the body home, and could only put it down to his "natural instinct".

He insisted to gardaí he never intended to kill Anne and acted in a mixture of "fear and panic".

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy found Anne had suffered nine blows and died of "blunt force trauma to the head and obstruction of the airways".

Medical evidence showed Anne had not been pregnant and had known this.

When this was revealed to Webster in interview, his response was: "I f***ing knew it."

"People do behave strangely and unpredictably when they think their backs are to the wall," defence barrister Brendan Grehan SC said in his closing speech to the jury.

"It explains why Mr Webster acted in the way that he did, it explains why a good man did a bad thing."

He told the jury members they had to decide whether Webster deserved "that epitaph of murderer as opposed to killer".

The jury made that decision and convicted Roy Webster, not just as a killer but as a murderer.

Irish Independent

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