Thursday 19 April 2018

Roy Webster found guilty of the murder of Anne Shortall by unanimous jury verdict

Anne Shortall (left) and murder accused Roy Webster (right)
Anne Shortall (left) and murder accused Roy Webster (right)

Andrew Phelan

ROY WEBSTER has been found guilty of the brutal murder of mother-of-three Anne Shortall, who he battered to death with a hammer after she blackmailed him over a one night stand they had.

A jury today convicted Webster (40), who savagely beat Anne (47) about the head, wrapped her face up with duct tape and drove her to his home, where he hid her body in his workshop.

The married father-of-two killed her when she claimed he had made her pregnant and threatened to tell his wife unless he paid her for an “abortion.”

Webster, a cabinet maker, had denied the murder but admitted manslaughter. That plea was not accepted by the prosecution.

He is facing a sentence of life imprisonment after a jury of four women and seven men delivered its verdict at the Central Criminal Court.

He started straight ahead with an eyebrow raised and his mouth hung open as the verdict was delivered at the Central Criminal Court at 12.42pm today.

Victim Anne Shortall was not pregnant at the time of her killing by Roy Webster in Wicklow
Victim Anne Shortall was not pregnant at the time of her killing by Roy Webster in Wicklow

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

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 up from the bench where they sat as the foreman of the jury replied “yes” to confirm the verdict on the issue paper that found Webster guilty of murder instead of manslaughter.

Some of Anne’s family wept and others held each others hands on hearing the verdict.

Webster’s wife Sinead and her parents were also present in court. Sinead Webster raised her head and closed her eyes while waiting for the verdict, then opened them and looked straight ahead, showing no emotion.

Webster, a married father-of-two killed Anne when she claimed he had made her pregnant and threatened to tell his wife unless he paid her for an “abortion.”

He had denied the murder but admitted manslaughter. That plea was not accepted by the prosecution.

Victim Anne Shortall was not pregnant at the time of her killing by Roy Webster in Wicklow
Victim Anne Shortall was not pregnant at the time of her killing by Roy Webster in Wicklow

Webster, who is already in custody having never applied for bail will be handed down the mandatory life sentence later this afternoon at a sentencing hearing.

Judge McCarthy thanked the jury and exempted them from further jury service from 10 years.

The verdict was unanimous despite the jury having been given an option of reaching a majority verdict less than 20 minutes earlier.

Three minutes after the verdict was delivered, the four women and seven men filed out.

Shaking his head again, 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 eight-day trial, the court heard Webster, from Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow spent the weekend with his wife, four-year-old daughter and their six-week old son while Anne's body was hidden in the workshop in their shed.

Webster had met Anne Shortall (47) at the end of a work night out in Wicklow Town on December 20, 2014.

Roy Webster leaving court
Roy Webster leaving court

They got talking, kissed and he ended up going back to her apartment where they had sex.

He stayed until the following morning and got a taxi home to his then-pregnant wife and daughter and had no more contact with Anne at that stage.

The jury heard how Anne, a separated mother of three, was under growing financial pressure at the time of her encounter with Roy Webster.

In early 2015, her rent arrears reached €1,840, culminating in eviction proceedings, with a final notice served on March 11. She owed €2,222 in electricity bills.

Anne began trying to contact Webster in mid March through one of his cousins on Facebook - Steven Armstrong.

Meanwhile, she accidentally sent a message to a stranger, Stephen Armstrong: “Tell your mate Roy that I need €5,000 for an abortion.”

Her first direct contact with Roy Webster was when she called his landline at home at 3.26am on March 25. He happened to be up, feeding his newborn baby and she said "check your Facebook page."

By March 30, she was carrying out research online about how much it would cost an Irish woman to go to the UK for an abortion.

Anne later texted Webster: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m pregnant.”

Anne was due out of her home by April 9. However, a day before she disappeared, with her eviction imminent, she texted the letting agent to say she had got the arrears and at least six months’ rent.

“I ain’t going anywhere,” she told the agent.

She told Webster she was looking for money for an abortion when they met outside her apartment at Craven Cottage, South Quay in Wicklow Town on the evening of April 2, the jury heard.

They arranged to meet again the following afternoon, Good Friday, April 3.

First, that morning, he had a job to finish on a kitchen but both he and the client had forgotten it was a bank holiday and she was not able to pay him.

Next, he had to pick up a children’s book he had ordered for his four-year-old daughter at Bridge Street Books in Wicklow Town - Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy.

Finally, he texted Anne: “Meet at Leitrim?”, she replied “on way” and they met outside the Leitrim Lounge pub.

He drove her in his work van to The Murrough, a coastal industrial area quiet enough that they could talk discreetly.

The pair were at cross purposes over the supposed pregnancy. She wanted money - STG6,500, and he wanted proof.

They argued and 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, given to the gardai in interviews, was the only version of events available to the jury.

He opened the van’s side door and grabbed the first thing that was 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 in the back of the van 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 gardai 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 played with his children, watched TV and eventually fell asleep.

But within hours, Anne's disappearance was noticed and Webster was awoken around midnight by a phone call from Emma Shortall (22), who had found his number on her mother’s phone, along with their last text exchange.

The phone had been left along with her mother's cigarettes, which was unusual.

Emma was worried and searching for her mother - Webster lied told her it was a wrong number and he did not know what she was talking about.

The next day, Saturday, April 4, he was contacted by Emma’s younger sister Alanna (19) and lied again, telling her: “all I know is she is going to meet a friend in London.”

That day, the same day Anne was reported missing, Webster and his family went shopping for the baby in their car while her body remained in his van at the house.

Later, Webster moved her into the workshop, noticing how stiff the body had become.

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

Despite acting as if nothing had happened, garda attention was turning to Webster and when questioned he told more lies.

By the evening of Monday, April 6 he had given two witness statements, admitting having had “a sexual encounter” with Anne. He said when she told him she was pregnant he said he would “go halves” with her if she could prove he was responsible and if not he was “not coughing up.”

He told gardai that after talking for a few minutes in his van on April 3, Anne got out and walked back toward Wicklow Town and that was the last he saw of her.

He surrendered his van and phone for tests but was still only "helping gardai with their enquiries."

The following day, April 7, Detective Sergeant Michael O’Brien was at Webster’s home to discuss media coverage of the case.

As they sat around the kitchen table, Sinead Webster prompted her husband, with their baby boy in her arms: “Have you anything to say that you are not saying... if you have something to say tell us now. Did you hurt her?”

Webster hesitated, his head was down and he started to cry and said he did hurt her.

‘I hit her with a hammer’", Webster told the gardai and his wife. He said she was in the workshop.

Sinead Webster dropped to her knees, her baby still in her arms, and gasped. A diabetic, she began to have a fit and injected insulin.

Following the dramatic confession, a statement was taken from Webster on the spot.

“She put me under so much pressure, I hit her a couple of blows, a mistake that is after ruining so many lives,” he said. “I was trying to keep it together for everyone but she had me against the wall. Everything I had worked so hard for. She was just threatening and threatening. I grabbed the first thing I could and I hit her.”

After showing gardai where he had hidden the body behind boards in his workshop, he was arrested and left his home for the last time.

He never applied for bail after he was charged and had been in custody throughout the subsequent investigation and trial.

In custody, Webster told gardai when he attacked Anne, it had been like he was “looking down at someone else doing it,” like it was an “out of body experience.”

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

It was like he had “blanked” what happened and fell back into his routine.

He insisted to gardai he never intended to kill Anne and acted in a mixture of “fear and panic.”

However, he also said: “I hit her because she was threatening my family and my livelihood.

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.”

The head injuries could have caused death on their own, she determined, but even if she had still been alive afterwards, Anne could not have survived the wrapping of her face with duct tape.

However, Prof Cassidy said death was probably fairly rapid and there were no clinical signs of asphyxia.

The post mortem examination, and previous medical visits while she was still alive 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, when they think there is no way out,” defence barrister Brendan Grehan SC said in his closing speech.

“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.”

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

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