Monday 26 August 2019

Shane Phelan: 'The sheer accumulation of circumstantial evidence is likely to have swung Mr Moonlight verdict'

Patrick Quirke pictured arriving at the Courts of Criminal Justice where he was convicted of the murder of Bobby Ryan. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Patrick Quirke pictured arriving at the Courts of Criminal Justice where he was convicted of the murder of Bobby Ryan. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

We will probably never know for sure the exact reasons why a jury of six men and six women decided to convict farmer Pat Quirke of the murder of his supposed love rival Bobby Ryan.

The law is strict when it comes to deliberations in the jury room. They simply cannot be disclosed.

It is a contempt of court punishable by a fine or imprisonment to repeat any statements made in the jury room.

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However, we do have some clues regarding the issues on which the jury focused.

Very early in their deliberations, they requested print-outs of Quirke's interviews with gardaí. They also sought phone records.

In particular, the jury foreman asked for a transcript of an interview given by Quirke on April 30, 2013.

This was the day he "discovered" Mr Ryan's remains in a run-off tank on the farm he was leasing from widow Mary Lowry.

Mr Ryan had been missing for 22 months, having last been seen at Ms Lowry's home in Fawnagown, Co Tipperary.

The phone records confirmed Quirke rang his wife Imelda rather than ringing gardaí after seeing the body in the tank while supposedly draining water to assist with the agitation of slurry.

During his voluntary interview that day, Quirke appeared to attempt to shift the focus on to Ms Lowry, with whom he had an affair between 2008 and 2010. She later formed a relationship with Mr Ryan.

The prosecution contended Quirke tried to suggest Ms Lowry knew more than she was letting on.

For example, he told gardaí she knew about the tank because of an incident in which a calf got its leg stuck between the slabs of concrete that covered it.

However, according to evidence given by farm hands Sean Dillon and Emmet Kenny, the calf got stuck in a septic tank in another part of the farm.

Prosecution counsel Michael Bowman SC said there was no evidence Ms Lowry knew about the tank and the suggestion by Quirke that she did "communicates something that I think is quite extraordinary".

Quirke also claimed Ms Lowry had a "couldn't-care-less attitude" about the disappearance of her boyfriend.

He claimed what he knew of Mr Ryan's disappearance was what Ms Lowry had told him.

But he said she couldn't be clear whether it took 10 minutes or two minutes for Mr Ryan's van to leave her driveway on the morning of his disappearance.

He also asked how she found Mr Ryan's van so quickly later that day in the car park leading into Kilshane Woods.

Quirke wondered why she did not travel along the route Mr Ryan would normally have taken but instead drove to the woods.

However, Mr Ryan's daughter Michelle told the trial it was her idea to go to the woods as she had a "terrible feeling" her father's van was there.

The trial heard indentations on an A4 sheet of paper recovered from Quirke's home indicated many of the questions he posed to gardaí about Ms Lowry had been written down. It was unclear when the note was made.

If the jury did not believe the answers given by Quirke in his interviews, it is likely to have been a major factor in its decision to find him guilty.

However, it is unlikely to have been the only reason.

The case against Quirke was "forensically barren". There were no eyewitnesses, no definitive time of death, no place of death, and no murder weapon.

Even the manner in which his victim was killed was the subject of uncertainty, with a blunt object and a vehicle suggested by pathologists as possible murder weapons.

Despite all of these missing elements, there was a substantial circumstantial case against Quirke.

It may well be the sheer weight of the circumstantial evidence was what convinced the jury of his guilt.

Mr Bowman told jurors that taken on their own, each strand amounted to nothing more than suspicion or something uncannily coincidental, but when woven together they proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The circumstantial evidence put forward by the prosecution included efforts by Quirke to sabotage the relationship between Mr Ryan and Ms Lowry.

In one incident, he told Mr Ryan he was "being played for a fool" by Ms Lowry.

A second attempt at sabotage came when Quirke reported Ms Lowry to Tusla, claiming she was neglecting her children emotionally because of her new relationship.

If Tusla had got involved, it could have forced Ms Lowry to choose between Mr Ryan and her children.

In a letter to an agony aunt in the Sunday Independent, Quirke wrote of being "heartbroken and angry" following his break-up with Ms Lowry.

The prosecution said Quirke was "well and truly rumbled" when he was seen on CCTV in December 2012 interfering with Ms Lowry's clothesline and her postbox and using a key to open her front door, setting off the house alarm.

This led to Ms Lowry seeking to terminate the lease, meaning Quirke would no longer have access to the farm and the hiding place of Mr Ryan's body.

The jury was told Quirke was one of only four people who knew of the existence of the tank where the body was dumped and he had exclusive access to it since 2008.

Ms Lowry testified that Quirke looked "hot and bothered" when she had seen him in the farmyard on the morning of Mr Ryan's disappearance.

Artificial inseminator Breda O'Dwyer, who had dealings with Quirke for 15 years, gave evidence he was still milking at 9.30am that morning, which was unusual.

On the day Mr Ryan's body was "found", Quirke was wearing a jacket, shirt and pants rather than overalls as expected if he was planning the "dirty job" of agitating slurry.

The prosecution asked why Quirke decided to draw water from the tank, as it had never been used for that purpose before.

Mr Bowman said Quirke claimed to have been shocked when he discovered the body, but pointed out that after ringing his wife he also called his vet and his voicemail.

"I don't think he was shocked or afraid for one moment," Mr Bowman told the jury.

Then there were internet searches for "DNA" and "human body decomposition" in the months before the body was recovered.

While Quirke claimed his son's death was the reason, this did not explain all of them, lending further weight to the prosecution's case.

Irish Independent

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