Vera McGrath sentenced to 18 months for helping to dispose of husband's body
A 65-year-old woman has been sentenced to 18 months for helping her husband’s killer dispose of his body in Co. Westmeath almost thirty years ago.
But Vera McGrath of Volvenstown, Fordstown, Navan, Co Meath will not serve any further time in custody as she has already spent over two years and seven months of a life sentence for a 2010 murder conviction which was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal last year.
The Central Criminal Court was told that her son-in-law Colin Pinder killed Mr McGrath and the pair burnt and disposed of his body in a hole in the back garden of his home.
McGrath, who has no previous convictions, was arraigned before the court on Monday charged with materially assisting the killer of her 43-year-old husband, Bernard Brian McGrath, by disposing of evidence connected with his manslaughter at Lower Coole, Westmeath.
The charge stated that the manslaughter had been committed by Pinder and related to a date unknown between March 16 and April 18 1987.
She pleaded guilty to the charge and the plea was accepted by the prosecution.
In sentencing Mr Justice Paul Carney said because McGrath had served over two years and seven months for the crime, which carried a two-year penalty she had “credit in the bank” and had “a get out of jail free card”.
“This is a most upsetting case making me feel physically ill,” said Mr Justice Carney.
He took account of the facts “which are upsetting to the point of making someone physically ill having to listen to them.”
He also took account of her having no previous convictions, that she had co-operated with gardai and that the case was old.
He imposed a sentence of 18 months in prison from today’s date but said McGrath was to have credit for time already served.
But the judge said she will have to go to prison for processing but will be entitled to be released.
McGrath and Pinder were tried together. Pinder was convicted of manslaughter and was jailed for nine years.
McGrath’s murder conviction was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal on March 11, 2013. Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman ordered a retrial because of prejudicial evidence.
Mr McGrath was assaulted and died at his home in the back of the cottage he lived in at Coole and his remains were buried in the back garden before they were dug up again, burnt and disposed of.
Michael Bowman BL prosecuting said that it was at the “higher end of offending behaviour” because of the covering up of material facts and the disposal of the entirety of the body on two occasions.
Mr Bowman said the body would not have been found were it not for the help of her daughter Veronica.
In mitigation Mr Patrick Gageby SC defending said his client was extremely co-operative and pointed out the scene.
He also said she pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity and told gardai the body was that of the late Mr McGrath.
He also said McGrath could not be given credit for the full amount because it well exceeds the statutory minimum.
The court heard McGrath’s daughter Veronica facilitated and site visit in 1993.
When the site was exhumed partial bones were retrieved and 50 per cent of what was a human body was found.
Chief Superintendant Aidan Glackin told Mr Bowman that Mr McGrath and his wife were married in the UK in 1966 and had four children.
He said that they moved back to Ireland in the late 1960s and purchased the cottage in Coole in 1979.
Chief Supt Glackin said it had been a fraught and difficult relationship and McGrath had previously taken her children away from the family home.
Her daughter Veronica had met Pinder in the UK and returned to Ireland in 1987 where they resided in a caravan at the back of the family home before moving it to a different location.
She and Pinder were married on April 18, 1987 and the court heard Mr McGrath did not show up at that wedding with his wife informing everyone that he had abandoned the family.
She also told a solicitor to seek a barring order against her husband after pretending to be assaulted by him.
Mr McGrath was last seen alive on March 23, 1987 when he visited someone in hospital.
Nothing happened until September 1993 until her daughter Veronica, who was resident in Liverpool, rang the gardai in the UK about what had happened to her father and made a statement.
On November 6, 1993 she made a formal statement detailing her mother’s involvement.
The court heard McGrath went to her daughter’s caravan in a distressed state and an assault took place, which resulted in the unlawful killing of Mr McGrath.
In her statement she said they dug a hole and put him in it. She told gardai her mother said: “You won’t get out of there now you bastard.”
A victim impact statement on behalf of McGrath’s three sons – Brian, Andrew and Edward McGrath – was read out in court.
The statement said: “The loss of our father has had a profound effect on us, learning of the barbaric way his life was taken away from us has left us numb with shock.
“Not being able to visit or tend a Christian burial site, and with so many unanswered questions has left us with the inability to grieve or mourn in the normal natural way the loss of our father.
“Not having a father figure has left us with no direction in life, as children and young men this was taken away from us.
“Our father was a kind, pleasant, hardworking and intelligent, loving man.
“He is greatly missed by his children and grandchildren who were denied knowing the wisdom that comes from a loving grandfather.
“The passing of time has not dimmed the memory of or longing of a much loved father”.
An additional impact statement on behalf of Edward McGrath was also read out in court:
The statement said: “I remember my father Brian McGrath as a loving, protective, kind man. He provided me with a stable home, education and guidance as a young boy.
“This life I knew was cruelly taken away from me in the most painful way possible. As a result of this heinous crime I had to go through life without my father being able to attend special events such as my Confirmation, my Wedding or birth of his grandchildren.
“I was not provided with the opportunity of attending secondary school or college. There was no pity or remorse shown towards my dad by the people responsible for his death.
“He lay in an unmarked grave for a decade. We were not allowed to speak his name at home or put a picture of him on the mantle-piece.
“It has taken a very long time for justice to be served to the people responsible.
“The initial stages of grief and sadness that most people experience when someone they love is taken from them is extremely hard to bear; when that period is extended to 27 years, it is truly unbearable as you have no closure.
“The memory of my loving father will never be erased. His spirit continues to shine bright in my family home today.”