Thursday 19 September 2019

'There is a cold place in my heart after the barbaric treatment of our wonderful son'

Probe: Garda underwater unit members search the Grand Canal in January 2016 as part of the investigation into Kenneth O’Brien’s murder. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins
Probe: Garda underwater unit members search the Grand Canal in January 2016 as part of the investigation into Kenneth O’Brien’s murder. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins
Kenneth O'Brien
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'The worst part of all was being told our son was a torso in a suitcase," Gerry O'Brien said in his victim impact statement.

There was silence in the courtroom as he told of the "utter disregard" shown for his son Kenneth "as a human being" and "the barbaric nature in which he was treated and discovered".

What had happened was "an affront to all who knew him", Mr O'Brien said.

"We couldn't function until the rest of Ken was found and would be given a proper burial."

His voice held unspeakable pain as he said his son's hands had never been recovered.

In his seat, Paul Wells senior winced almost imperceptibly.

He will serve a mandatory life imprisonment after being found guilty of murdering father-of-one Kenneth O'Brien, whom he shot in the head and dismembered before dumping his remains in the Grand Canal, Co Kildare, between January 15 and 16, 2016.

In his victim impact statement, courageous and unwavering in the most difficult of circumstances, Gerry O'Brien said the Ken that had emerged in the trial was not the Ken the family knew and loved.

"Ken was a wonderful son. We will miss him terribly," Mr O'Brien said. "We can never have him back."

Members of the O'Brien family wept quietly as Gerry told how there were no words to describe the trauma and desolation they have felt since his murder.

He told of how Ken was a hard worker from the age of 15. And though he did not find it easy to express himself, they always knew what he meant.

"He was a lovely child to rear," he said.

It was hard to sum up his 33 years into a couple of pages, Gerry said, speaking of Ken's many friends and how he had always been so helpful to others.

"For me, there will be a pain in my heart, a cold place in my heart for what has happened to Ken and that cold place will be with me forever more," he concluded.

On his way back down to his seat, Mr O'Brien's eyes met with those of his son's murderer and they did not flinch.

The trial had been one of the most difficult ones to be heard in recent years.

During the three-week trial, the jury heard that on January 16, 2016, a couple out walking by the Grand Canal at Ardclough, Co Kildare, found a suitcase floating in the water.

When they opened it they thought it looked like human remains and called gardaí, who found a human torso inside.

A post mortem found the head and limbs had been cut "neatly" off with a chainsaw and gardaí launched a murder investigation.

Kenneth O'Brien had been reported missing after he failed to return from work the previous day to his home at Lealand Road, Clondalkin.

He had told his partner Eimear Dunne that he was going to a construction job in Limerick, but this proved not to be true.

Messages

In the early hours of Saturday, she was sent two suspicious text messages that supposedly came from Mr O'Brien. First, the sender said he had lost his phone and was staying in a hotel.

In the second, he said he had "met someone else" and was "heading for the ferry" with her.

The spelling and punctuation were off and Ms Dunne realised it was not from Mr O'Brien.

Paul Wells, a friend of Mr O'Brien's, was one of the people she contacted as she tried to find out where he was.

Wells told her Mr O'Brien had met another woman in Australia, where he had been working, and did not want to come home.

In Garda interviews, Wells claimed Kenneth O'Brien had wanted him to murder Ms Dunne so that he could take their child back to Australia, where he had previously lived.

He told gardaí that he shot the deceased in the back of the head during a scuffle over Mr O'Brien's alleged request, along with another request to make it look like 'sexual abuse'.

In horrific evidence, the jury had heard how in the aftermath of the shooting, he realised he couldn't lift Mr O'Brien's body from where it lay in his garden shed.

"I was frightened of being discovered," he told gardaí.

"There was an orange-handled chainsaw. I don't know what I was thinking," he continued. "My head was spinning."

"The hard part for me was that it belonged to Ken," he said, explaining that he had borrowed the chainsaw a year or two earlier.

He described the subsequent scene as "pure f***ing carnage" to investigating gardaí.

A second victim impact statement written by Ms Dunne, the partner of Mr O'Brien, was read aloud in court by Garda Aine O'Sullivan of the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Ms Dunne told how Kenneth had returned home "for good" from Australia that December. He had been there to make money so that they could have a better life.

Her birthday was on Thursday, January 14, 2016.

"I celebrated that day as a family with Charlie, had planned to spend the weekend celebrating but that never happened because Kenneth never came home," she said.

She said she could not put into words the feelings she had experienced over the next few days and months after finding out that Kenneth had been murdered in the most gruesome of ways.

"No mother should have to do what I had to do, in telling our beautiful boy that his idol, his father, was never coming home," her statement said.

"I put aside my grief to care for our grieving child. The impact that this murder has had on an innocent four-year-old is immeasurable."

Kenneth was a family man who "idolised" their son", she said, adding that they had been like "two peas in a pod".

She said she would do "everything in her power to make sure that Kenneth's memory was kept alive and that Charlie will remember all the good things about his dad".

As he was led out of the courtroom, Paul Wells Snr, amid some agitation, looked directly at Ms Dunne and said: "I'm sorry."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News