Saturday 23 March 2019

Murderer may never be caught now case is 'closed'

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

Specially trained dogs, used in the Soham inquiry, were drafted in. But no trace of blood was found in the house

THE investigation into the murder of Margaret 'Meg' Walsh is now considered closed and gardai have no plans to reopen it despite the acquittal of her husband John O'Brien.

This means that it is extremely unlikely anyone will ever face justice for the mother-of-one's brutal murder.

Yesterday's verdict brought to an end the most intensive murder investigation ever launched in the southeast of the country.

Meg (35) was reported missing by work colleagues on October 2, 2006 -- just over a week after she had gone to her local Garda station to report she had been assaulted by Mr O'Brien (41) in their Waterford city home.

A major search was launched by Meg's family and friends, lasting until October 15, when her battered body was discovered floating in the River Suir at Meagher's Quay, near the city centre.

A murder investigation, led by Supt Dave Sheahan, was launched the following day after a post-mortem examination revealed Meg suffered horrific blunt force trauma injuries to her upper body.

Trauma

Her skull was cracked "like an egg" in two places, several of her fingers were broken and she had severe trauma to her right shoulder, arm and stomach.

Several possible suspects, including Mr O'Brien, were initially identified.

"We didn't adopt a narrow focus and several people were listed as possible suspects at the beginning," a senior investigator told the Irish Independent.

"A lot of them wouldn't have even known they were suspects. We discreetly checked on their movements and gradually whittled down the list."

One of those ruled out at an early stage was Meg's friend Owen Walsh, who had joined Meg and her husband for a drink at their home the night before she disappeared.

Mr O'Brien had thrown Mr Walsh out of the house after he saw Meg give him a goodnight kiss.

Garda checks on Mr Walsh's subsequent movements quickly established he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

As other suspects were crossed off the list, Tramore-born bus driver Mr O'Brien, who became Meg's second husband just a year beforehand, quickly became the main focus of the investigation.

He had not reported Meg missing or taken part in the searches for her.

It would later be claimed in court that Mr O'Brien's account of his movements around the time of Meg's disappearance were inconsistent and he had been evasive when giving statements to detectives.

Meg's silver Mitsubishi Carisma was discovered in the car park of the Uluru pub, a mile from her home at Ballinakill Downs, on October 4. Blood on a car mat turned out to be hers.

A reconstruction of Meg's last known movements was conducted and posters of her car and licence plate number, 01W2060, were circulated in a bid to jog peoples' memories.

Gardai collected hundreds of hours of CCTV footage from businesses around city.

They also sought an analysis of the phone records for Meg and her husband.

After Meg's body was discovered, gardai secured a court order deeming the couple's house a crime scene.

Specially trained blood dogs, used in the Soham investigation, were drafted in from the UK. However, no trace of blood was found in the house.

Meg's funeral took place on October 19 in Killavullen, north Cork, where she had grown up.

The following day gardai arrested and questioned Mr O'Brien for 12 hours over her murder, before releasing him without charge.

A few weeks later Mr O'Brien placed an ad in local newspapers, ahead of Meg's month's mind, thanking people for their support.

He was arrested for a second time on December 9, but was again released without charge.

Although the garda team had not been able to establish ~ exactly where Meg was murdered or what weapon was used to kill her, they felt the circumstantial evidence was strong enough to seek a murder charge and forwarded a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

On June 21, 2007, Mr O'Brien was arrested again and charged with murder.

During his trial the prosecution outlined the theories formulated by the investigation team.

Discrepancy

The prosecution alleged that the account Mr O'Brien gave of his movements on Sunday, October 1 and Monday, October 2 were full of discrepancies and did not tally with independent evidence.

They claimed that in particular, Sunday afternoon and Monday evening were largely unaccounted for.

These were periods where there were sightings of Meg's car, which the prosecution alleged Mr O'Brien used to move Meg's body before dumping it in the river.

The prosecution also alleged that the motive for the murder was that their marriage was falling apart.

Meg had asked her husband to sign over his half of their €500,000 home. If Mr O'Brien did this and Meg left him, he would have been left with nothing, the prosecution claimed.

The defence argued there was no incriminating evidence against Mr O'Brien and pointed out that a witness had seen the Mitsubishi Carisma at a time when the defendant was giving a statement to gardai.

They argued that if Mr O'Brien was not driving the car then the real murderer must have been.

In the end, after five hours and 20 minutes of deliberations, a jury of seven men and five women agreed with the defence and found Mr O'Brien not guilty of his wife's murder.

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