Sunday 20 October 2019

'Love rival' trial: 'Imponderables, curiosities and key questions of truth'

The jury will now begin deliberations in the trial of Patrick Quirke for the murder of Bobby Ryan, writes Maeve Sheehan

The accused Patrick Quirke. Photo: Collins Courts
The accused Patrick Quirke. Photo: Collins Courts
Garda forensic officers examining the run-off tank where the body of Bobby Ryan was discovered at the farm in Fawnagowan, outside Tipperary, owned by Mary Lowry.
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

It was early morning on a warm June day in the Tipperary countryside. Windows in the house were open.

Mary Lowry, still in bed, listened for the sound of her boyfriend, Bobby Ryan's van drive over the grid at the bottom of her avenue. There was a delay before she heard the familiar noise; three minutes, she told gardai at first, then two and 10 minutes, then five to seven minutes and finally, testifying at the trial of her former lover Patrick Quirke for the murder of Bobby Ryan, she settled on between three and 10 minutes. 

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An "imponderable", said Bernard Condon, defence counsel for Mr Quirke last week. But a "very important point".

"If Mr Ryan was killed at this time, what happened? How did it happen? How long did it take? What would or would not have been heard?" he asked.

The prosecution is saying that Bobby Ryan was "badly beaten" with an "implement", he said. Within that period, there would have been some sort of swinging. Would there have been some sort of cleaning, he asked. Mr Ryan's body was stripped - although his watch was left on his wrist. There would be blood somewhere, if the prosecution's version was correct, he said.

Yet through all of this, Mary Lowry's mother-in-law, Rita Lowry, who was in her room with her window open, heard nothing, said the defence counsel. The only sound Mary Lowry heard was the van crossing the grid outside.

Patrick Quirke. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Patrick Quirke. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The day Bobby Ryan disappeared was a "barren desert", he said.

Mr Condon delivered his closing speech over several hours last Monday and Tuesday, as his client's trial for murder draws to a close. Bobby Ryan (52), a truck driver and DJ known as Mr Moonlight, disappeared after leaving Mary Lowry's home at Fawnagowan on June 3, 2011. His body was found 22 months later by Mr Quirke in a run-off tank on the farm he leased from Mary Lowry, his former lover. The prosecution says Mr Quirke (50), murdered Bobby Ryan on a date between June 3, 2011 and April 30 2013, to rekindle their affair, and "staged" the recovery of the body. Mr Quirke has pleaded not guilty.

Michael Bowman, for the prosecution, has acknowledged the "forensically barren" case. There is no weapon, no exact location or time of death, he told the jury. But the circumstantial evidence was compelling, and the human mind can take only so much coincidence. He tried to sabotage Mary Lowry's relationship with Bobby Ryan, he was caught on CCTV snooping around her property, and searches for "human decomposition" and "body parts" were found on his computer.

Mr Condon presented Mr Quirke as a "curious" person, "inquisitive by nature", a "nosy parker".

Mary Lowry. Photo: Mark Condren
Mary Lowry. Photo: Mark Condren

"We all have flaws and personality quirks," Mr Condon added, "but that's not murder."

But he devoted several hours of his closing speech to his analysis of the evidence of Mr Quirke's former lover. When all of the strands of evidence are gathered together, much of it is built on Mary Lowry, he said. The problem is that her evidence was "not gold standard".

He pored over Mary Lowry's last weekend with Bobby Ryan before he disappeared. They were in Bundoran, dancing. Ms Lowry had told the court that Bobby wasn't feeling well, she danced with another man, he chatted to another woman, she was cross. She gave out to him in the car all the way back and he suggested they take a break. They were back together within days.

Mr Condon said he "delved into the entrails" of Bundoran and found "something quite interesting" - how Ms Lowry changed her story. Under his cross examination, she said she had asked Bobby Ryan if it was okay to dance with another man. She had never mentioned this in her garda statements - it was "an out-and-out lie", he said.

Moving on to the hours before Bobby Ryan disappeared, he highlighted "curiosities" and "inconsistencies" in Mary Lowry's account. Such as which of them had charged Bobby's phone the night before; what time the alarm was set for; whether his runners were lace-ups; did he have a cup of tea before he left her house. "I was testing her on the accuracy of her recollection," he said. Her varying accounts of how long she waited to hear Bobby Ryan's van crossing the grid at the end of her avenue was an "imponderable", he said.

She told another "out-and-out lie" about seeing Pat Quirke in her yard two hours later at 8.30am, when she was getting in to the car, with her children and her mother-in-law. She told the jury that he looked "hot and sweaty and bothered" and suggested it was odd that he should be there so early.

This was the "most devious, devious poison", he said.

She knew that Pat Quirke was going away for the weekend, because she had told gardai so.

Mary Lowry had accused Pat Quirke of being controlling, but Mr Condon said that she was manipulative, she told lies and tried to rewrite history.

He asked the jury to consider if they would like a loved one to be convicted on evidence from a person like this?

As for the Garda investigation, the evidence it produced was "substandard". He listed what should have been done, such as a search of Mary Lowry's house at Fawnagowan in 2011 - where Bobby Ryan was last seen alive; the videotaping of the removal of his body from the tank; and the pathologist should have been told that debris fell on to the body, he said.

And as for the searches on Mr Quirke's computer for "human body decomposition", Mr Condon said there was nothing specific to this case, such as bodies decomposing in water or in an airtight container.

Mr Condon said that it might be "macabre" but "people do the strangest things" on their computers. "You can't go straight to guilty on the basis of some searches on the internet over a couple of minutes in December." At various times, he described the case against Mr Quirke as "threadbare", thin and amounting to nothing more than suspicion, and finished by asking the jury to acquit

Ms Justice Eileen Creedon will charge the jury on Tuesday before they retire to deliberate on the evidence.

Sunday Independent

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