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Rare laughter punctuates a week of heavy silence

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Architect Graham Dwyer is accused of the murder of Elaine O’Hara  (inset), from Killiney, Co Dublin

Architect Graham Dwyer is accused of the murder of Elaine O’Hara (inset), from Killiney, Co Dublin

Witness William Fegan leaving Central Criminal Court after he gave evidence in the trial of Graham Dwyer.
Pic: Collins Courts.

Witness William Fegan leaving Central Criminal Court after he gave evidence in the trial of Graham Dwyer. Pic: Collins Courts.

Court Collins.

James O’ Donoghue leaving court after he gave evidence in the trial of Graham Dwyer, who has pleaded NOT guilty to the murder Elaine O'Hara in August 2012. 
Pic: Courtpix

James O’ Donoghue leaving court after he gave evidence in the trial of Graham Dwyer, who has pleaded NOT guilty to the murder Elaine O'Hara in August 2012. Pic: Courtpix

Remy Farrell SC

Remy Farrell SC

Photocall Ireland

Graham Dwyer

Graham Dwyer

Court Collins.

Sean Guerin SC

Sean Guerin SC

Elaine O'Hara's father Frank, her sister Anne Charles and brother John O'Hara at court. Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Elaine O'Hara's father Frank, her sister Anne Charles and brother John O'Hara at court. Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Photocall Ireland

Elaine O'Hara

Elaine O'Hara

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Architect Graham Dwyer is accused of the murder of Elaine O’Hara (inset), from Killiney, Co Dublin

THE quick-witted quip by prosecutor Sean Guerin SC brought a rare moment of lightness into courtroom number 13. Last Thursday, Peter Curtis, retail director at Specsavers in Dun Laoghaire, was explaining to Mr Guerin how a pair of glasses retrieved from the Vartry reservoir near Roundwood, Co Wicklow, belonged to the late Elaine O'Hara.

Mr Curtis said he had identified the glasses as Ms O'Hara's because of an eight-digit code on the inside of the glasses' frame, found by the Garda underwater unit. Asked by Mr Guerin to read out the eight digit code, Mr Curtis - himself wearing glasses - struggled to read the fine print as he held the frames aloft in the witness box.

"You should have gone to Specsavers," said Mr Guerin, prompting an outbreak of laughter in the trial of architect Graham Dwyer, who denies murdering the 36-year-old childcare worker from Killiney.

The trial, which could last for up to eight weeks, set off at a blistering pace: 58 witnesses have been heard in the first six days of the trial alone.

The stride is all the more remarkable because the prosecution and defence teams are being led by only one senior counsel on each side, Mr Guerin and defence counsel Remy Farrell SC.

Normally trials of this scale, in terms of witnesses, evidence and technical material - including CCTV footage and mobile phone records - would be handled by two senior counsel on each side. But the two UCD graduates appear to have set a new standard for efficiency in the operation of criminal trials.

The pace to date (no doubt customary legal argument will act as a brake) stands in stark contrast to the gentle, subdued manner in which the prosecution's case was opened by Mr Guerin on Thursday, of last week. Speaking in near undertones, Mr Guerin informed the jury of seven men and five women that it is the State's case that Mr Dwyer, a married father of two, had "very nearly committed the perfect murder". Mr Guerin told the jury that the State will be able to prove that Mr Dwyer and the late Ms O'Hara - described as "almost the perfect victim" owing to her history of mental illness - had a sexual relationship and that an essential part of the relationship was acts of stabbing committed by Mr Dwyer on her.

Mr Guerin said the duo had an unusual relationship which involved BDSM - bondage, domination, sadism and masochism - and that the acts of alleged stabbing reflected "a deep-seated, passionately held, irrepressible desire on the part of Mr Dwyer to get sexual satisfaction by stabbing a woman".

The prosecutor told the jury there is no cause of death. He also said that there is no medical evidence, no eye witnesses and no forensic evidence to link the scene where Ms O'Hara's remains were found in the Dublin mountains to her alleged killer. And yet, he said, a series of "remarkable coincidences" would support the prosecution's case that this is "a simple, straightforward case for murder".

Plunge

Coincidences, the court heard, like the unusually warm weather in 2013 which saw water levels in the Vartry reservoir plunge from normal levels of 20ft to 2ft that year. In 2012, the reservoir continually overflowed, but that summer levels fell dramatically, yielding an unusual haul from the lake bed.

Coincidences like the eagerness of a little dog for fetching bones, whose playfulness led to the discovery of Ms O'Hara's skeletal remains by a dog walker. Or the landowner who recalled seeing items a year earlier suggesting "funny business" less than 200 yards from where Elaine O'Hara's remains were found.

Factors like the memory of a jogger who recalled meeting Elaine O'Hara in Shanganagh Park because she didn't say 'thank you' after asking for directions to a footbridge. Or the tenacity of a young garda who, before he even knew that Elaine O'Hara was a missing person since August 2012, went back three times to the reservoir to fish out a series of unusual items - including sex toys, bondage cuffs and keys.

These items themselves that had been spotted by local anglers, one of whom - Billy Fegan - brought them to Garda James O'Donoghue at Roundwood Garda Station because he "thought maybe there was something not right".

Reservoir

O'Donoghue went to the reservoir and kept going back, hand-picking items from the river and preserving them in evidence bags, oblivious to the fact they would help build a case for a murder the State says it will prove.

Indeed, whatever verdict the jury ultimately reaches in this trial, the sheer doggedness and attention to detail by Garda O'Donoghue will serve as a reminder of best practice and selfless service in An Garda Siochana, an institution that has been battered by negative press for more than a year.

The first witness was Frank O'Hara, Elaine's father, a man shattered by her death and an outburst in which she is alleged to have told her father that she was having an affair with a married man - an architect from Foxrock - who would tie her up and masturbate over her.

Elaine O'Hara confided in co-workers that she "might be pregnant" the year that she disappeared, that she met men online, was having an affair with a married man, mentioning bondage sites and sex games to them.

But, the court heard, her colleagues said that they took everything Elaine O'Hara said with a pinch of salt. "You wouldn't know what was true or not true," said former shop worker Emma Robertson on day two of the trial.

Pain was etched on Mr O'Hara's face when asked about the secret sex life his daughter apparently led and items, including a latex bodysuit and a notebook containing the name of a fetish website, found in her apartment after she went missing.

In his opening, Mr Guerin said Elaine O'Hara's sexual urges saw her seek a position of a "submissive" who enjoyed being tied up, controlled, and allowed herself to be punished.

It is the prosecution's case that Mr Dwyer renewed a pre-existing sexual relationship with Ms O'Hara by text message in March 2011. She replied to the text message by advising the sender "I'm not into blood anymore". Records of mobile phone records, including those retrieved from the reservoir at Roundwood, will form a substantial portion of the State's circumstantial case against Mr Dwyer.

But it was the confluence of coincidences and discoveries that occupied the jury this week.

After Elaine O'Hara disappeared, chains and a padlock, a black bin bag with a PVC dress and a printout of a document entitled 'The Gorean Lifestyle: A Woman's Right is Slave' were found in her apartment.

Garda O'Donoghue's tenacity led to detailed searches of Vartry in September 2013 when bondage cuffs, keys, rope, a gag and a leather mask - with metal zips where the eyes and mouth should be - were uncovered.

Subsequent fingertip searches by the gardaí's sub aqua unit, several of whom told the court how they crawled on their hands and knees, yielded more items including a Nokia mobile phone, sex toys, a bag containing a barrel of a gun as well as a mattress and Dire Straits CD.

On day five of the trial, the court heard that hacksaw blades, cable ties and clothing were found at a second site - identified by landowner Frank Doyle - near where Elaine O'Hara's remains were found.

Defence counsel Remy Farrell SC also alluded to a forensics report, not yet fully opened, that will suggest that a sock collected at the scene where Ms O'Hara's remains were found may be a "possible match" to a strip of fabric found at the second site.

The jurors heard that cuts were discovered on a blood-stained mattress at Elaine O'Hara's home when gardai went back there after her remains were found.

The court also heard, from a forensic anthropologist attached to the Forensic Science Laboratory, that there was no evidence of trauma to the bones of Elaine O'Hara before or around the time of her death. Dr Laureen Buckley also ruled out any possibility that the remains, which had not been buried, had been scorched by fire.

We heard, too, that the death of Elaine O'Hara - who appeared in court in the form of CCTV footage at her apartment in the hours before she went missing - was formally declared dead at 8.10am on September 14, 2013.

Day six of the Graham Dwyer trial belonged, in a sense, to Garda James O'Donoghue. Without him all of the remarkable coincidences, which the prosecution says points towards Mr Dwyer's guilt, may not have formed the broken strands the State says will form a rope strong enough to hold its circumstantial case.

He returned to the lake on three separate occasions, fishing items out and making a careful note, placing all he found in tamper-proof evidence bags.

He was on his day off when he discovered that Elaine O'Hara was a missing person. And it was he who transformed the bridge at Roundwood into a crime scene, making sure no unauthorised personnel entered the area.

A stunned silence fell on courtroom 13 when many of the items - the chains, restraints and ball gag, among others - were produced. And the sound of the metal chains punctuated the heavy silence. Perhaps that is why Mr Guerin's spontaneous remark drew such relieved laughter.

The trial has been adjourned until Tuesday as a juror is unavailable.

It continues then under the watch of Mr Justice Tony Hunt.

Irish Independent