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Accused shows no emotion as court told grisly details of dead husband's body

Anatomist Dr Patrick Fell faced a complex and incomplete jigsaw when he attempted to piece together the skeletal remains of Bernard Brian McGrath.

It was November 1993 and the expert had been asked to examine a collection of items that had been taken from a farmhouse in Westmeath. Examining skeletons wasn't unusual for the professor, whose work had also led him to conduct investigations on the famed mummified bodies in St Michan's Church in Dublin.

On this occasion, the circumstances were certainly different. He was presented with a bucket containing a small amount of chicken bones, mud and burnt timber, all mingled in with a selection of partially-intact human bones.

Putting them together to create a comprehensive picture was no small task, as Dr Fell explained: "The vast majority of the bony material was incomplete, fragmented or chopped up".

The most complete part of the skeleton was the right hand, with several bones remaining intact. As for the rest of Mr McGrath's body, the anatomical evidence told a sorry tale. Parts of the jaw bone were not burnt, and Dr Fell also identified fragments of the left arm, and a femur. There weren't even enough remains to determine definitively whether the body was male or female.



Identify

The shocking figures were trotted out for the benefit of the jury. The normal adult male has 24 ribs, but Dr Fell could only identify pieces of 12 ribs, between five and 10pc of the normal rib mass. Of the clavicle, shoulder blade and entire left arm, there were no remains.

For the 12 men and women of the jury, the evidence made for uncomfortable listening. Earlier in the trial, they had heard Mr McGrath's daughter Veronica detailing the manner in which her father's body had been disposed of. Yesterday, they returned to hear about the result of the extensive recovery operation mounted by gardai.

At the side of the room, Mr McGrath's wife Vera sat quietly, her face unreadable. The 61-year-old, who is accused of murdering her husband, did not react to any of the grim details. Beside her sat Colin Pinder, his head bowed.

Vera McGrath has pleaded not guilty to murdering 43-year-old Bernard Brian McGrath at their home in Lower Coole, Westmeath.

Her former son-in-law, Colin Pinder (47), of Liverpool, England, has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter on a date between March 10 and April 18, 1987.

Around the room, curious onlookers listened in earnest to the account of Mr McGrath's unorthodox interment.

Local undertaker Michael Cassidy from Castlepollard was the man tasked in 1998 with collecting the deceased's remains from the mortuary in hospital. The bucket and its contents were then placed in a coffin and taken to Coole church for a funeral service before burial the following day in Whitehall cemetery. Nonetheless, it was not the final earthly journey for Mr McGrath. It would be a further 10 years before his remains were exhumed in May 2008 for the purposes of further tests.

In evidence earlier in the trial, Veronica McGrath had described seeing her mother and her then-fiance attacking Mr McGrath before disposing of his remains. She wasn't entirely sure of the date, other than that the event occurred some time in March or April 1987.

This timing appeared to jar with the evidence given yesterday of local woman Kathleen Kelly. She became acquainted with Veronica in the 1980s and even hosted her in her home for a number of months, having been told that she was homeless after being thrown out by her father.



Arrangement

Some time in 1988, Kathleen met with Veronica. She was sure about the year because her daughter was in England at the time, pregnant with twins, and had given birth in November 1988. Kathleen's husband was also in the UK, and with no phone in the house there was an arrangement that the two would ring the payphone in the local pub. On one particular occasion, the barman told Kathleen that Veronica McGrath was waiting to see her in the grocery part of the building.

"Young Vera (Veronica) was in there. She said they were after being thrown out of the house by the father. I went outside and all the young children were in the car and a little baby and Vera the mother", she said.

The trial continues before Mr Justice John Edwards.


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