Friday 23 March 2018

Woman accused of killing husband and burning body

Abigail Rieley

Bernard Brian McGrath died more than 20 years ago. It was 1993, six years after his death in 1987, before gardai discovered his charred remains buried in a shallow grave in the garden of his home in Coole, Co Westmeath.

There was only half a bucket of fragmented bones for his family to bury.

On Friday, his wife and former son-in-law went on trial for his murder. Opening the case for the prosecution, Denis Vaughan Buckley told the jury they would hear how Mr McGrath was beaten to death in a sustained attack by the two accused, using multiple weapons and making absolutely sure that he had no chance of survival.

Vera McGrath, 61, of Lower Coole, Coole, Co Westmeath, and 47-year-old Colin Pinder, from Liverpool, England, both deny the murder.

Mr Pinder pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Friday morning but this plea was refused by the DPP.

Mr Vaughan Buckley told the eight men and four women on the jury that Mr Pinder had met the McGraths' daughter, Veronica, in England. They had returned to the family home to get married in February 1987 and were living in a caravan at the side of the house.

Wearing a black trouser suit with a white shirt and black and white checked coat, Ms McGrath did not react as Mr Vaughan Buckley told the jury that Veronica would be one of the main prosecution witnesses. He told them Veronica would say she had been present at the time of the killing and had seen everything that had happened.

He told them Veronica would say that she and Mr Pinder had gone to stay in a friend's house because of the rows they could hear coming from the family home between her parents.

On the night the killing allegedly happened, some time between March 10, 1987, and the day the wedding took place on April 18, the couple were in the caravan.

Mr and Mrs McGrath arrived and while Mrs McGrath went into the caravan to talk to her daughter, her husband walked to the house where they were staying with his prospective son-in-law.

Mr Vaughan Buckley told the jury Veronica would tell them about the conversation she had with her mother that night. She would say that Ms McGrath had told her she wanted her husband dead and wanted Mr Pinder to help her dispose of him.

When the two men returned from the house the foursome went for a walk before returning to the family home. It was there that Mr McGrath was attacked and killed. They buried him in a shallow grave.

Veronica will say that the following day she helped her mother and fiance clean up the copious amounts of blood that remained but the wall of the house was porous and impossible to clean. Her mother told her to paint tar onto the wall to hide the bloodstains.

Shortly after her daughter's wedding, Vera McGrath took her three young sons with her to England. They stayed for around eight weeks, while the newlyweds stayed in the family home. On her return, Mr Vaughan Buckley said, she and Mr Pinder became unhappy with the way the body was buried.

The jury will hear, he said, that they had dug up Mr McGrath and burned his body over a number of days. They had then pounded up the bones to make identification impossible before reburying him.

The body was discovered during the initial garda investigation in 1993 but could not be formally identified. Then, in 2008, the remains were exhumed when the case was investigated as a cold case.

The chief state pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy, examined the remains. The jury will hear that there was one fracture to the jaw bone that seemed to have occurred before the bones were burnt -- although it was not possible to determine whether this fracture occurred before or after death.

Colin Pinder was arrested in February last year in Dublin Airport after voluntarily returning to Ireland. He had been interviewed on several occasions since Mr McGrath's remains were found in 1993.

Three months after his arrest, gardai went to Ms McGrath's house and arrested her also.

Mr Vaughan Buckley told the jury "you can safely come to the conclusion that both accused are guilty of murdering Bernard Brian McGrath". Both of them had taken an active part in the attack, he said, and Vera McGrath had encouraged Colin Pinder to kill her husband.

Before they went home for the weekend, Mr Justice John Edwards warned the jury that they must ensure they were not influenced in any way towards a certain verdict. They should not listen to the views of friends or family, he said, and should avoid all press coverage, whether print or broadcast. They should also refrain from googling anyone involved in the case until after they had finished their deliberations.

The trial will continue tomorrow and is expected to last for at least three weeks.

Sunday Independent

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