Monday 21 October 2019

Maeve Sheehan: 'A call to a social worker, a computer and searches for 'decomposing bodies''

The evidence in the 'Mr Moonlight' murder trial is due to conclude this week, writes Maeve Sheehan

Forensic officers at the scene where the body of Bobby Ryan was discovered in a run-off tank on the farmland leased by the accused Patrick Quirke at Fawnagown, Tipperary on April 30, 2013. Picture Credit: Press 22
Forensic officers at the scene where the body of Bobby Ryan was discovered in a run-off tank on the farmland leased by the accused Patrick Quirke at Fawnagown, Tipperary on April 30, 2013. Picture Credit: Press 22
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The duty social worker opened up the computer and typed as the caller spoke. The date was February 4, 2011, a Friday. The caller gave his name as Pat Quirke. He was phoning to report "concerns" about the "well being" and "safety" of the "three Lowry children".

The children - his wife's nephews - were left "unsupervised for long periods of time, mostly at the weekend". Their mother, Mary Lowry, a widow for three-and-a-half years, had recently started a new relationship and he felt she had "lost the run of herself" and become "fixated" on it. She "would leave the family home" from 4pm in the afternoon until the early hours of the morning, leaving the children unsupervised. She was "failing to take into account the emotional needs of her three children" due to this new relationship.

"The wider paternal family were also concerned, especially the children's paternal grandmother," he said. But Pat Quirke said they were "afraid" to address these concerns with Ms Lowry "for fear of repercussions".

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Deirdre Caverley noted his concerns. Her job as duty social worker at the Health Service Executive's social work department in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, entailed taking calls from concerned members of the public. She questioned Pat Quirke. Could the Lowry children's grandmother be looking after them, Deirdre Caverley suggested, as she lived in the adjoining house? Pat Quirke said their grandmother hadn't been asked. The social worker told Pat Quirke to ring gardai if he had any immediate concerns for the children at weekends - as child protection services didn't operate outside of weekdays. Six days later, she was at Mary Lowry's home at Fawnagowan for an unannounced visit. Ms Lowry wasn't home, however. The social worker rang Pat Quirke. He told her the best time to get Mary Lowry at home would be after 4pm, when the children were back from school and Ms Lowry was home from her volunteer work in the town.

Deirdre Caverley was giving evidence in the trial of Patrick Quirke for the murder of Bobby Ryan, a truck driver and DJ who used the stage name Mr Moonlight. He was also Mary Lowry's boyfriend.

The audio occasionally hummed and cackled as the social worker testified by video link from the US. She appeared on the court's screens, seated alone behind a long-polished table in a large empty meeting room in an Irish embassy building in Boston.

Patrick Quirke
Patrick Quirke

The prosecution's case is that Patrick Quirke, who is from Breanshamore, outside Tipperary town, murdered Bobby Ryan because he was his love rival. The court has heard how after the death of her husband, Martin, Patrick Quirke stepped in to help Mary Lowry with her finances and leased 63 acres of farmland from her. They had an affair. When that ended in 2010, she began seeing Bobby Ryan, whom she said she "loved to bits".

On June 3, 2011, having stayed the night, Bobby Ryan left Mary Lowry's house at 6.30am and disappeared. Almost two years later, Patrick Quirke opened a run-off tank on Mary Lowry's farm to draw water and found the missing man's body inside.

The prosecution contends that Mr Quirke killed Bobby Ryan and then "staged" the discovery of his body on Mary Lowry's land on April 30, 2013 because he knew that his lease on her farmland was coming to an end.

Patrick Quirke denies the charges and is pleading not guilty.

Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan

The events at the heart of this trial unfolded in a small rural community in Tipperary. As Ms Justice Eileen Creedon recently noted to the jury, it is being discussed all around the country. Onlookers file daily into the Court 13 to catch the latest evidence being laid out. It was no different last week, when the court heard details of Google searches for online articles on human decomposition and forensic evidence that gardai found on a computer taken from Patrick Quirke's home.

Detective Garda Paul Fitzpatrick from the National Cyber Crime Bureau told the court that two computers, an iPad, an Apple iPhone, a USB drive and an external hard drive were removed by gardai two weeks after Bobby Ryan's body was found. He examined the devices for anything of relevance to the Garda investigation.

Much of what the detective had to say was technical and complicated, explaining terms like cookies, and caches, and how users are redirected within webpages, and outlining the software he used to forensically search the devices for the user's activity, returning to carry out more analysis of the computer as software advanced.

One of the computers taken from Mr Quirke's house - which had no name, was registered to "a user" and which the garda called KKPQ1 - generated a litany of material that he believed was relevant to the Garda investigation.

Over nine minutes on a Monday afternoon, on December 3, 2012, whoever was using the computer started a Google search for "human body decomposition timeline". That led to a link to the website, Forensics4Fiction.com, another called Environmental Graffiti.com, and Suite101.com. These brought up the web article, 'The five stages of decomposition', and another called 'How the human body decomposes after death'.

YouTube videos were embedded in the web pages, two of which related to "Body farm". One was described as a "study of human decomposition on real corpses", from which Garda Fitzpatrick highlighted the line: "You never forget the smell." But Garda Fitzpatrick was unable to say whether these videos had been viewed.

Garda Fitzpatrick said half an hour after this activity, an email was sent from a Pat Quirke email address to another man "in relation to shares". He also found on the device a document dated December 14, 2012 with the title "Dear Mr Leahy". [The court had previously heard from a solicitor called Aidan Leahy, who acted for Mary Lowry]. The author referred to her Mary Lowry's teenage son driving a motor car around the fields, "like a rally track" and having "no regard" for his livestock. It complained about a tractor that blocked the entrance to the farm, with no keys in it, and nobody around to ask to move it. "I believe this was another deliberate act," the letter said.

Two days later, Google searches were carried out for "defamation of character".

On the day Bobby Ryan's body was found, on April 30, 2013, the computer was used to go online to RTE's news webpages, and an article headlined "Man's body found on Tipperary farm".

Over the following days, the computer was used to visit several online news pages relating to the discovery of the body in Tipperary, according to Garda Fitzpatrick's evidence: 'Garda probe stalker link to body' on May 2 and 'Slurry pit murder victim on verge of breakdown' on May 5.

Between May 12 and 13, 2013, Patrick Quirke contacted Vodafone to request a log of all calls and texts to his phone for the period June 2 to June 5, 2011.

Garda Fitzpatrick said he found nothing of evidential value on the other items taken from Mr Quirke's home, aside from an Apple IPhone 4 on which he found a cookie file in the web history that showed a search for Bobby Ryan on July 4, 2012.

Garda Fitzpatrick also examined Mary Lowry's computer. He searched the device using the words 'murder' and 'decomposition' but told the prosecutor, Michael Bowman, that he got no hits. He did find searches for Bobby Ryan - a folder containing a 'missing' poster with a picture of Mr Ryan, created two days after he disappeared. The user searched for the words 'Trace Ireland Bobby Ryan' the night before his body was found.

Bernard Condon, for the defence, cross-examined Garda Fitzpatrick about how Google suggests words when users start typing in the search bar. Garda Fitzpatrick could not say whether the search terms used on this device were "predictive" or not.

Ms Justice Creedon told jurors that the evidence in the case will conclude this week.

Sunday Independent

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