Sunday 18 August 2019

Nicola Anderson: 'Eerie silence hung in court after jury delivered verdict'

Judgment: Patrick Quirke and his wife Imelda arriving to the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Judgment: Patrick Quirke and his wife Imelda arriving to the Criminal Courts of Justice. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

When the verdict came, Patrick Quirke was outdoors on the terrace of the courts complex, soaking up the fresh air and sunshine along with his faithful wife, Imelda. They had spent the majority of their time there during the jury deliberations.

Its gravelled, manicured rectangle was designed for smokers rather than exiled dairy farmers, and was a poor substitute for the wide open pastures and lush farmlands which he had enjoyed up until that moment.

And which had suddenly come to an abrupt end.

An in-camera trial had been in full flow in courtroom 13 while the jurors were out, but as the double doors opened, scattering lawyers and court staff, it was clear that, after 20 hours and 39 minutes, they had reached their decision about Quirke.

It had been the longest-running murder trial before a jury in the history of the State and those last few days of waiting in the corridors had seemed interminable. All chat had long lapsed into a languid murmur.

But now there was a sudden clamour, as onlookers who had diligently followed this most lengthy saga made a determined dive for seats. The lawyers and gardaí followed more sedately, and then there was a short delay as Quirke and his wife slowly made their way back upstairs.

Presiding: Judge Eileen Creedon heard the long-running case. Photo: Collins Courts
Presiding: Judge Eileen Creedon heard the long-running case. Photo: Collins Courts

Quirke's face was his usual mask of blank indifference - but his chest rose up and down rapidly, betraying his inner agitation.

He felt in one pocket of his grey suit and then the other for some object that eluded him, as Judge Eileen Creedon took her seat. "We'll have the jury out now, please," she stated briskly.

Michelle and Robert Ryan Junior sat close together with their heads bowed, scarcely breathing.

The previous day had been the sixth anniversary of the terrible day that the remains of their beloved father were found in the run-off tank at Fawnagown, Co Tipperary.

Relative: John Ryan, brother of Bobby Ryan, leaves court after the verdict and sentencing. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Relative: John Ryan, brother of Bobby Ryan, leaves court after the verdict and sentencing. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The start of one nightmare, the end of another in which he had 'merely' been missing. In all, they had endured almost eight years of torture and anguish. Now, a faint glimmer of hope finally glistened as they sat, waiting.

Down at the back of the room were the team of gardaí, craning their necks forward as they, too, awaited the outcome of a six-year-long investigation during which they had patiently pieced together, layer by slim layer, a picture of indisputable clarity.

Quirke had coldly and callously murdered Bobby Ryan because he was a threat to his relationship with Mary Lowry, a threat to the cash she provided, and also a threat to his arrangement at Fawnagown whereby he was getting a prime farm for a peppercorn rent.

He did it because he wanted control - and it appeared it had been premeditated.

At no stage, did he show any sign of remorse.

In prosecution counsel Michael Bowman's closing statement, an illustration of the injuries inflicted on Mr Ryan's skull was put up on screen and even at that stage, an expression of chilling satisfaction had settled on Quirke's face. He was proud of what he had done.

His legal counsel Bernard Condon said it had been a case based on "theory" rather than hard evidence - but the theory was compelling.

The senior registrar, Michael Neary, asked the jury foreman if it had reached a verdict and the foreman said it had.

Was it a verdict on which a majority of at least 10 to two them of them were agreed, he asked and the jury foreman again replied, yes.

Mr Neary read it aloud. On count one, the verdict was "guilty".

An eerie silence hung in court. Many appeared not to have registered what had just been said.

Quirke's face was a palette of white and pink but otherwise did not alter while, in her own seat, Imelda's face was ashen. Her head dropped toward her lap and she breathed rapidly. Beside her was Quirke's sister who held back tears, and after some minutes, typed a text with a trembling hand.

A quiet word was said to the Ryan family and they understood. Michelle and Robert immediately dissolved into silent tears, their arms wrapped tightly around one another, while their mother, Mary Ryan and Bobby's extended family also wept.

And still, you could have heard a pin drop in court.

The judge rose, after thanking the jurors and excusing them for further jury service for life, and Quirke swept out for a consultation with his legal team and Imelda followed. Shortly before 3.30pm, he was back in the dock.

Her head held high, though trembling slightly, Michelle Ryan declined to meet the eye of the man who, apparently without a thought, had snuffed out the life of her father, as she passed him on her way to the witness box to deliver her victim impact statement.

He looked as though he had been crying and his red tie had been removed now that he officially had prisoner status.

Imelda didn't reappear for this part of the proceedings. Perhaps she could not bear it.

Michelle's words were heartfelt and heartbreaking. Having been almost lost amid the cross-hairs of the trial, her father was back in his rightful position - at the centre.

"We wake up every night with the nightmares," she told the court.

"This is something we will never ever come to terms with.

"God didn't decide to take Daddy from us and knowing how his life was taken and where he was found rips us apart every day."

She dreaded telling Bobby's grandchildren how 'Granddad Bob' had died and "seeing the light burn out in their eyes".

To the last, Quirke sat indifferent to the pain he had caused and the lives he had destroyed without a thought.

Irish Independent

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

Don't Miss