News Irish News

Monday 18 December 2017

Webster still refusing to face facts over brutal murder

Gardai remove the body of Anne Shortall, who was beaten to death with a hammer by Roy Webster Photo: Mark Condren
Gardai remove the body of Anne Shortall, who was beaten to death with a hammer by Roy Webster Photo: Mark Condren

Andrew Phelan

Roy Webster has had two years to get used to jail, but this weekend his cell door may seem to echo that bit louder when it clangs shut.

He is no longer a prisoner on remand but a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. Plenty of time to think about what he has done and how it has brought him here.

Anne Shortall
Anne Shortall

Webster may be recalling how it all started with a one-night stand with Anne Shortall after a drunken Christmas party, a betrayal of his then-pregnant wife before slinking back home, remorseful and secretive.

Read more: Webster weeps as he is jailed for life for murdering mum of three

He might be replaying in his head how events began to spiral out of control as Anne wouldn't go away, claimed she was pregnant, demanded money for an "abortion". How she threatened his marriage, his family, his home, his job, everything he had worked so hard for.

As he sits on a hard prison mattress, he might be thinking of the moment on April 3, 2015, when he threw all that away himself by picking up a claw hammer and beating Anne to death, battering the mother-of-three on the head so many times he lost count.

Roy Webster Photo: Collins Courts
Roy Webster Photo: Collins Courts

One thing we do know is that, although Roy Webster confessed to that savage killing, he still thinks it wasn't murder.

But how could he have made those admissions and still deny murder? That was the issue the jury had to grapple with in nearly eight hours of deliberations last week.

Webster maintained a manslaughter plea - rejected by the State - because for murder to be proven, the prosecution must show that an accused intended to kill or cause the victim serious harm.

An intention to kill does not necessarily mean cold-blooded planning.

Paul Greene, prosecuting, told the jury that it could be formed "immediately" and that Webster intended the "natural and probable consequences" of his actions when he hit Anne on the head nine times with a hammer as they argued in his van at the Murrough in Wicklow Town.

The defence claimed Webster could not have formed this intention to kill because, through provocation, he lost control to the point where he was no longer "master of his own mind".

Read more: An act of savage violence robbed Shortall family of their devoted mother

Webster's own descriptions of the attack to gardai, his barrister Brendan Grehan argued, backed up this defence.

He said alternately he had felt like he was "looking down on someone else doing it", "watching a horror movie", or it was like an "out of body experience" as he attacked Anne before binding her head and hands with duct tape.

However, Mr Greene pointed to Webster's actions after he beat Anne to death - he was "completely normal", according to his wife's friend Carmel Phibbs. He had a drink with his wife, watched TV and fell asleep.

Webster, a cabinet maker, drove Anne's body to his home at Ashbree, Killoughter, Ashford, hid it in his workshop and went back to his normal routine for four days before breaking down and confessing to gardai.

Mr Greene said Webster only began to claim he had lost control after his arrest. He reminded the jury of evidence from State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy, who said that the duct tape wrapped around Anne's head may have caused her to die from asphyxia, if she was not already dead.

Rather than being out of his mind, Webster had the presence of mind to wash the blood from his hands and wipe the bloody hammer.

Read more: Murderer's apology worth little to Anne's loved ones

During deliberations, the jury asked to re-hear the evidence of Prof Cassidy, Ms Phibbs and a forensic scientist who examined blood spatter in Webster's van.

Finally, when the verdict was delivered, it was unanimous: guilty of murder. Webster looked stunned.

He stared straight ahead with an eyebrow raised and his mouth open, then glanced from left to right for a few moments without moving. He shook his head slightly and lowered it.

A sigh of relief went up from the bench where Anne's family sat - some wept and others held hands or hugged.

Webster's now-estranged wife Sinead raised her head and closed her eyes while waiting for the verdict, then opened them and looked straight ahead, showing little emotion.

Webster was brought back to the cells, still shaking his head in disbelief. An hour later, Anne's heartbroken family were finally given their say after listening to two weeks of harrowing evidence.

Read more: 'Our whole world fell apart' - Murder victim Anne Shortall's family describe horror since brutal murder

Henry Leonard, a brother-in-law of Anne, read out a joint statement on behalf of her brothers and sisters, Anthony, Percy, Gary, Seppie, Josie, Liz and Eileen.

"On April 3, 2015, our lives changed forever," the statement began. "Little did we know what we were about to go through, finding out Anne was brutally murdered is something that will ring through our heads forever. Our family has never been the same."

Anne's youngest daughter, Alanna, said: "My whole world fell apart, the person I relied on, counted on was taken away from me so suddenly and violently."

Her other daughter, Emma, said she had lost her mam, her best friend and her confidante.

"I will never have my mother for when my first child is born, or she won't be here for my wedding day," she said in her statement.

Her son, David Shortall, added: "On Wednesday, I should have been embracing my mother with open arms and saying happy birthday; instead I put flowers on her grave."

Webster cried as Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy handed down the mandatory life sentence.

Read more: Roy Webster found guilty of the murder of Anne Shortall by unanimous jury verdict

As Anne's family got up to leave, he mouthed "I'm sorry" at them. His remorse may be genuine but he still did not accept the verdict, that battering their sister, their mother nine times over the head until she was dead amounted to murder.

Saying nothing in response, they turned their backs and filed out of courtroom number six for the last time.

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News