Tuesday 20 February 2018

Roy Webster was a 'good man who did a bad thing' - court hears, as jury begin deliberations

Roy Webster and Anne Shortall
Roy Webster and Anne Shortall

Andrew Phelan

A JURY has begun deliberations at the Central Criminal Court in the trial of Roy Webster, who is accused of murdering mother-of-three Anne Shortall.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the jurors that two possible verdicts were open to them - they can find Mr Webster guilty of murder or not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

The jury retired briefly to consider a verdict this afternoon when the judge completed his charge, outlining the legal issues and reviewing the evidence of the case.

Earlier, Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, delivered his closing statement to the jury of four women and seven men.

The jury returned after 15 minutes, when they were given a laptop for the playback of CCTV evidence.

The foreman also asked to see exhibits in the case - clothes and shoes as well as the hammer. Judge McCarthy then sent the jurors home for the night and asked them to return tomorrow morning.

Mr Webster (40) of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow, has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, in Wicklow Town.

His plea was not accepted by the State.

Earlier, the Central Criminal Court was told how Roy Webster was a "good man who did a bad thing" and killed Anne Shortall when he had been pushed past his breaking point.

A defence lawyer told the jury that the case bore none of the hallmarks of a planned, cold-blooded murder but was instead a “frenzied attack” in which Mr Webster had “lost control.”

Brendan Grehan SC was delivering his closing speech for the defence in the trial of Mr Webster (40) this afternoon.

The accused, a married father-of-two of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow, has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Ms Shortall (47) on April 3, 2015 at The Murrough in Wicklow Town.

His plea was not accepted by the State.

The jury heard he beat the mother-of-three to death with a hammer in a confrontation after she claimed she was pregnant following a one-nioght stand they had and threatened to “blow the lid” if he did not give her money.

Mr Grehan told the jury the facts of the case should lead them to the conclusion that this “wasn’t some cold-blooded killing planned in any way at all. It was something that happened when somebody lost control of themselves when they were effectively backed into a corner.”

“If ever it could be said that there was a case where there can be no winners, then this is it,” he said.

“Anne Shortall lost her life, her children lost their mother, her extended family lost a sister… Roy Webster’s wife lost effectively her husband, the marriage, the family unit, the happiness and security she thought she had,” Mr Grehan said.

“His children will grow up without their father, and worse, it will come with the realisation when they are older of why that was.”

He said the accused’s own extended family had sundered with him, including his elderly parents who live next door and on whose land his own house was built.

Everybody involved in the case had lost, he said.

In relation to the prosecution’s assertion that Mr Webster had shown “self pity,” Mr Grehan referred to the first memo of interview in which the accused had said he was “genuinely sorry for putting everyone through that.”

The case, he suggested, was about breaking points. He said everybody liked to think they would never do certain things but the reality was “as human beings, if we are pushed far enough, we can shock ourselves.”

He said criminal law recognised that people can be pushed to breaking point and can do things they absolutely regret. This was known as a concession to human frailty which could arise under provocation, something could be done that caused someone to lose their self control and act in an uncharacteristic way.

The prosecution’s emphasis on what happened after the event - his “return to normal life” -was to put the focus of the jury in entirely the wrong place, Mr Grehan said.

“The focus of your attention must be what happened in the immediate circumstances leading up to the death of Anne Shortall,” Mr Grehan told the jury.

He said we were all capable of disassociating ourselves from something terrible that has happened.

One could imagine Mr Webster opening the van door (the next day) and “hoping against hope that Anne Shortall wasn’t there and that this whole thing was a terrible nightmare, but of course it wasn’t.”

He said Ms Shortall’s background had to be referred to in the trial so as to understand how her path intersected with that of the accused.

He referred to her own “dire circumstances” and fear of eviction and that she appeared to come up with the idea of trying to get the money from Mr Webster that would “solve all her problems.”

Mr Webster had deleted all his text messages but through “pure fluke” Ms Shortall had sent a Facebook message to a person she thought was related to the accused but was not.

But for that, Mr Grehan would have been fearful that the jury would have been wondering “is he making all this up?”

“He wasn’t, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr Grehan said.

Mr Webster’s actions on the day were borne out of his own desperate view of the situation, Mr Grehan went on.

“He had committed an indiscretion, he had been unfaithful to his wife, betrayed his marital vows, he had done something on a drunken night out and in this he is, I am quite certain not unique in this country or many others,” Mr Grehan said. “This is not a court of morals, you are not here to judge him on the morality of his actions on that night.”

Ms Shortall did not want Mr Webster to forget about her and when she contacted him, the net was cast “fairly wide” and she might have been less than fully in control, perhaps through alcohol, contacting him on his home phone at night.

He said the jury could be pretty certain that Ms Shortall knew she was not pregnant at the time of two medical appointments in February and March, 2015.

There was “quite frenzied” text contact between the two before a brief meeting on the Thursday night before she died.

Mr Webster told gardai he had been prepared to pay her if she was in fact pregnant. Mr Grehan said the unaccounted-for hour and a half before Mr Webster’s meeting with Ms Shortall “transpired not to be important” on viewing CCTV footage of his movements.

None of the hallmarks of murder planned in cold blood were present in the case, Mr Grehan continued: the accused used his own phone to make contact with Ms Shortall, he was sending texts which in the normal course of events would be stored on Ms Shortall’s phone, and he used his own van with his name “emblazoned” on it.

Mr Webster also “did this in broad daylight,” driving Ms Shortall through Wicklow town where “anybody who thought about it for a second” would realise was going to be covered by CCTV. He went to a place where you would expect anybody to be about, and, “as fortune might have it,” a man walking his dogs had seen and recognised Ms Shortall.

This did not fit with the notion that they were in an “isolated place.”

“Where is the cover up?” Mr Grehan asked. He told the jury the accused had left the body in his van instead of “somewhere up the Wicklow Mountains, in the Bermuda Triangle where so many people have gone missing.”

Even if he had some aspiration that Ms Shortall might not have kept the messages, he was alerted by contact from her daughter’s that night.

“How many opportunities had he, if he wanted, if he had any desire to cover his tracks and get rid of the body?” Mr Grehan asked.

“He was frozen, ladies and gentlemen, he was literally frozen in terms of his actions.”

He said the accused moved the body into his shed, along with the tools covered in blood and the hammer covered in blood beside it, and then he “just waits.”

When he did make admissions at his kitchen table, at his wife’s “insistence”, it “comes flooding out of him.”

It went from a missing person enquiry to gardai having suddenly found the missing person, she was dead, the weapon was there beside her and “oodles of evidence” was there beside her, Mr Grehan said.

In relation to the accused losing control, Mr Grehan said there was a discrepancy between the number of blows inflicted - the accused thought up to four, the pathologist said nine.

“It’s one of the classic hallmarks of a frenzied attack that you stab or hit many more times than you are capable of remembering,” Mr Grehan said.

The accused had told the gardai his head was spinning and he could see his “whole world crashing down” before grabbing “the first thing.”

He said in his statements, Mr Webster said Ms Shortall’s reaction to the first blow was “I’m going to ruin you” and the accused “loses it and hits her many times.”

He told the gardai it was like he was “looking down at himself doing it.”

“In my submission, all of that has the hallmarks of somebody who has lost it completely and having done so inflicted terrible injuries on Anne Shortall,” Mr Grehan said.

He said it had been suggested the wrapping of Ms Shortall’s head in duct tape played a “large part” in her death.

Mr Grehan told the jury this element could not be excluded from the State Pathologist’s report but said the “preponderance” of her evidence leaned toward the hammer blows.

There had been no clinical signs of asphyxiation and in fact the evidence had been that death was rapid.

He said the jury must take as their working basis the “most favourable view” which brought them back to the “sudden loss of control” of the accused.

“That is how you must view this case - as one where someone lost control of themselves and acted in an entirely uncharacteristic way,” Mr Grehan said.

He told the jury the case was a “tragedy for everyone involved. He said the accused had been described in good terms by his friends and as having been of “impeccable character” by a garda.

He said the case raised the question of how it happens that “a man who has all that and has the life he has going for him can suddenly throw it all away.”

He said the accused could not have planned what happened because there was no real attempt to get rid of evidence or conceal the body.

“This was in effect somebody reverting to autopilot after this...waiting for the inevitable knock on the door,” Mr Grehan said.

The attack on Ms Shortall had been borne out of fear and an “all too human reaction.” Everything he did after was explainable by panic in light of the dawning realisation of what he had done.

Nobody was trying to equate in any way Ms Shortall’s desperate circumstances with what Mr Webster did, which was through fear and “way beyond the pale in terms of conduct” and when “in the cold light of day” was after something the accused could have worked through with his wife.

“But people do behave strangely and unpredictably when they think their backs are to the wall, when they think there is no way out,” Mr Grehan said.

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

“Your task is to determine whether his act was a killing that went beyond the extenuating circumstances which I suggest to you are there… or whether it is a murder and whether he deserves that epitaph of murderer as opposed to killer.”

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy was delivering his charge to the jury this afternoon.

Online Editors

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