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Graham Dwyer Trial: Garda traced Elaine O'Hara through Dunnes Stores loyalty card fob


Elaine O'Hara

Elaine O'Hara

CHARGE: Graham Dwyer. Photo: Collins Courts

CHARGE: Graham Dwyer. Photo: Collins Courts


Elaine O'Hara

A garda found keys belonging to Elaine O'Hara at the bottom of a reservoir in Co Wicklow, the Central Criminal Court has been told.

Garda James O'Donoghue happened to see something shiny stuck in mud at the bottom of the reservoir in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, the court heard. These were subsequently identified as keys which had a Dunnes Stores loyalty card attached.

Gda O'Donoghue made some enquiries and established that the loyalty card was registered to Elaine O'Hara, who was listed as 'missing' at the time.

The garda went to the location after speaking to a local angler who found items such as "leg restraints" and a "mouth gag" in the lake. These objects were handed to Gda O'Donoghue on September 11th.

The officer was giving evidence on the sixth day of the trial of Graham Dwyer.

Mr Dwyer (42), an architect of Kerrymount Close, Foxrock, is pleading not guilty to the murder of Ms O’Hara (36) at Killakee, Rathfarnham on August 22, 2012.

Ms O’Hara, a childcare assistant from Killiney, was last seen alive near Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill.

Her remains were found by a dog walker in undergrowth in the Dublin mountains on September 13, 2013, more than a year after she disappeared.

Garda O’Donoghue, of Roundwood Garda Station, said he was on duty on September 11 when local angler William Fegan came in at around 1pm.

He produced a plastic bag with a number of items and Garda Donoghue took possession of them.

He asked where Mr Fegan had located them. Photographs of the items - restraints, cuffs, chains, hoodie, and vest, ball gag and blindfold - were shown again to the jury and Garda O'Donoghue confirmed that these were the objects he received.

He recalled a piece of yellow rope being at the reservoir later but he did not take possession of it.

He said the clothing was soaking wet and heavily soiled. The other items, including the blindfold, were soiled but in relatively good condition and the materials could be identified.

The “shackles” and restraints were discoloured by rust but otherwise in quite good condition, he said.

It was clear the items had been exposed to water and by the soiling and rust, he told the court.

“I couldn’t say how long but it appeared to be quite a while that they had been submerged,” Garda O’Donoghue continued.

He hung the clothing up on a railing in the station’s drying room to air dry them with a view to giving them in as evidence.

Other items he put into evidence bags.

The following day, September 12, he phoned Mr Fegan to confirm the location because the reservoir was big.

He then went to the area identified, described as being under the central eye of the bridge.

Garda O’Donoghue looked into the water and although the weather was relatively dry, wind made the water muddy and there was no visibility.

He saw nothing and returned two days later, on September 14.

He could still see nothing from the bridge and walked down the embankment to the reservoir bed. Again he saw nothing, and went back on September 16.

It was 4pm and the conditions were far more favourable and relatively sunny. From the same location on the bridge, he looked over and could see a shiny object in the water. He was able to identify it from the bridge, he told the court.

Garda O’Donoghue said he went back to the arched bridge again on September 16th 2013.

“Conditions were far more favourable. I remember it was sunny actually, no wind,” he said.“On this occasion I could see a shiny object in the water which I could identify visually by looking at it.”He described seeing the end of a handcuff and climbing down the embankment and looked for the handcuff, put his foot in the water and it sunk in mud.

“I couldn’t see it but knew it was there,” he said about his search.

With his arm stretched out in the court, he showed show he searched by touch underwater as visibility was zero with the mud. The water was only about 12 to 14 inches deep.

“Nearly the length of my arm,” he said.

“I felt something perhaps an inch or two under the mud. It was buried under the mud. I identified these as a set of keys.”

He then fished out a leather bondage mask, which the court was told had a zip closing over the mouth and each of the eyes and air holes over nostrils. The back of it tied with a lace.

A large black handed kitchen knife, a rusty chain with a bull ring and an inhaler were also retrieved, he added.

All of the items were unpacked from evidence bags and shown in court, with a photograph of the keys shown on a large screen.

Gda O’Donoghue said when he took the items out he put them in Garda evidence bags “not because I thought they would be of value in the future, but for storage while I made inquiries,” he added.

He called Dunnes Stores regarding one of the loyalty cards  on the set of keys that evening, and was called back while off duty the following morning.

With that information, he contacted the Garda Information Service Centre in Castlebar which did a check on the details of Elaine O’Hara of 97 Belarmine Plaza, Stepaside.

When he heard she was a missing person, he contacted his sergeant, then a superintendent and gardai in Dundrum Garda Station were notified.

Th court heard he returned to the bridge and sealed off the bridge as a crime scene and several senior colleagues and the Garda underwater unit arrived at the scene.

Garda O' Donoghue said he also handed all the exhibits he and Mr Fegan had collected to Garda James Codd, who was involved in the Ms O’Hara investigation.

Cross-examining Garda O'Donoghue, barrister Ronan Kennedy, defending, said “to state the obvious,” it was not possible to determine how the items found their way into the water, or that they found their way in at the same time.

“I couldn’t say how long they were in the water,” Garda O’Donoghue replied.

Mr Kennedy said it was the manner in which they were pulled from the water that gave him the impetus to go back and search.

Mr Kennedy said a number of items had been found later including a Dire Straits CD and a mattress.

Garda O’Donoghue said he had no knowledge of these and could not comment.

Garda Wayne Farrell, crime scene examiner, said he went to the reservoir on September 17 at the request of Garda O’Donoghue and initially photographed items visible in the water before going to retrieve them.

Among the objects visible were the handle of a knife, with the blade mostly embedded in the water and a mobile phone with the cover and battery missing.

He returned to the roadside, put his camera back in the van and went to the waterside with a shovel and spade.

He first retrieved the mobile phone, then a set of handcuffs, followed by another set of handcuffs attached together with a chain.

He took out one of two black-handled knives, but was “up to his knees in muck” and called in water support to retrieve the other.

He then retrieved the black and white sex toys, which were presented in court. The first was a white vibrator and the second, Mr Guerin said, was “referred to as an anal plug.”

The riverbed became silty so they stopped and waited for it to settle down.

The top of what looked like a battery operated object was removed from the side of the bed, as well as a roll of black insulating tape.

Garda Farrell said searches further under the bridge also recovered a pair of shorts and a dressing gown, both with the Real Madrid crest on it.

He told the court a red and black rucksack was also retrieved, along with sawn off barrels of a double barrel shotgun and a large camera lens.

“These were placed in tamper proof evidence bags,” he told the court, before the trial stopped for lunch.

The trial resumed after 2pm and Garda Lorcan Byrne of the Garda Water Unit told the court he was deployed to assist in the search of Vartry reservoir on September 17, 2013.

He met a number of colleagues including Garda Wayne Farrell, who pointed out items in the water that he wanted recovered as he stood on the bank.

Three members of the unit stood into the water to grab objects before they silted up. He said they conducted a fingertip search on their hands and knees, crawling along.

They returned on October 7 for a more detailed search with a full dive team. The team usually consisted of at least five members and they were able to use specialised equipment like an underwater metal detector, he said.

Garda Byrne was in scuba apparatus conducting a fingertip search in a concentrated area when he found a black Nokia mobile phone back cover, two mobile phone batteries, two black anal plugs; one larger and one smaller, two “C” 1.5v batteries and a red kidney-shaped object with a power switch believed to be a remote control.

Also found was a black single-opening balaclava like a ski-mask.

There was also a piece of yellow rope with a knot taken from the water. The items were all shown to the court and identified by Garda Byrne.

Cross-examined by Mr Farrell, he agreed that a number of other items were removed from the water, “as diverse as” a mattress, a desktop computer, a Dire Straits CD, a small tub and a glass jar with liquid in it.

Other members of the water unit, Enda Broderick, Jerry McGroarty and Eoin Ferriter, gave evidence of what they found during searches.

Gda Broderick said on October 7th he used an underwater metal detector in the river, and as it made a ping sound he would mark the area with a stick and items dug out by Gda Ferriter.

Items recovered on that date included a Nokia mobile phone and Sim card, a pair of glasses, sun glasses, gold bracelet, a second Sim card (Tesco mobile), and a metal band.

They were all found in close concentration, just south of the bridge, he said.

Gda McGroarty first attended the scene on September 17th, describing how they carried out a fingertip search muddy terrain and little visibility in knee high water.

He retrieved a rucksack and nearby he found “the ends of two barrels of a shot gun, cut off”.

He returned on October 7th when a more detailed search was carried out and recovered another pair of shorts and a CD.

A mattress was the only item he found on the northern side of the bridge, he said.

Engineer Eamon Fleming told the court water levels Vartry Reservoir in August 2012 were unusually high after the "wettest summer on record."

They were unusually low at the same time the following year, he added.

Mr Fleming said levels were recorded every working day by visual examination and electronically on weekends and through the week.

He told barrister Anne Marie Lawlor, for the prosecution, that 2012 was a very unusual year because levels “never really dropped at all”.

“We had the wettest summer on record, records go back to the 1860s,” he said.

He said the water overflowed almost continuously that year, only dropping below the overflow level a few times.

Pointing to a muddy area on a photograph, he said this would have been covered in water that year with a depth varying to two metres. Coming up to the bridge itself, he said, the depth would have been 3.5 to 4 metres in 2012.

In 2013, there was a very warm, dry summer, the driest since 1995. The reservoir started to dry up in June 2013, the level dropping quite rapidly through to October.

He told Ms Lawlor the 2013 levels were unusual but not unknown.

In the typical average year, the level would have dropped 2 metres, but in 2013 it dropped by 5 metres.

In August 2012, the water was just above overflow level. On the same dates in 2013, it was 1.77 metres below.

Garda Derek Coady identified a number of items retrieved from the reservoir to the court.

The court later heard evidence about how two of the three loyalty store cards on the set of keys found in the river were traced back to Ms O’Hara.

Aidan Kelly of Dunnes Stores and Jean O’Donnell of Applegreen both confirmed the serial number on their store cards had been registered to Ms O’Hara.

Peter Curtis, of Specsavers in Dun Laoghaire, said gardai also visited him with a pair of glasses, which the court earlier heard had been retrieved from the reservoir.

He said the serial number on the frame of the glasses and the prescription on each glass made them unique to one person, Ms O’Hara who had been a customer in the shop since 1997

The court finally heard from Patricia Martin, who bought a dell laptop from Ms O’Hara about four years ago.

She handed it in to gardai on October 5th 2013 and gave them permission to analyse and keep it.

“It didn’t really work properly,” she added.

Earlier today, the court heard how anglers fished bondage cuffs, leg restraints, a “ball gag” and blindfold out of a reservoir three days before the discovery of Elaine O’Hara’s remains.

William Fegan told the jury he had noticed something shiny in the water while standing on a bridge over the water when they decided to pull it out.

Mr Fegan said he was a member of Co Wicklow Anglers Association and was taking a spin around the reservoir in Roundwood on September 10 to make sure there was no illegal fishing taking place.

His brother James and a friend, Mark Quinn, joined him and they were chatting. The level of water in the lake was lower than usual.

“What first drew our attention was a shiny metal object,” he said.

There was some yellow rope which seemed to be buoyant on top of the water.

“I passed a comment to Mark: ‘I wonder what’s down there?” he told the jury. “I thought it was like the ring of a bull’s nose. That was what it looked like to us.”

Mr Quinn told them he had a tension strap as he worked with granite.

He got the strap and lowered it down into the water, managing to hook onto the rope, lifting that up as well.

They fished out handcuffs and “what appeared to be leg restraints” as well as a grey vest, a hoodie and what Mr Fegan thought was a mouth restraint or a gag and a blindfold.

The items were removed from plastic evidence bags and shown to the jury; the handcuffs and leg restraints were attached to each other by a rusty chain.

The "bondage cuffs" had long fabric straps with padded restraints with buckles on them.

The gag had a rubber ball in the middle, with a strap and a buckle.

Mr Fegan said when they took all the items out of the water, they placed them on a wall close to where they had parked their cars and he went to work.

“I went back the following morning,” he said.

“I had a good think about what I found, I was driving at night and had good time to think.

“It was niggling on me and I went back the following morning, put them in a bag and brought them to Roundwood Garda Station.”

Mr Fegan said he gave the bag, which was possibly a coal bag, to Garda Jim O' Donoghue and gave a detailed description of where the items were recovered.

He told the court that was water was usually 20 foot deep directly under the bridge they we were on, however it had dropped to a little as 12 to 18 inches that day.

“It was very unusual,” he continued.

“It was a very hot summer and it had dropped. It would have been like that for quite a while, at that level a couple of months.”

Under cross examination, Mr Fegan told defence barrister Ronan Kennedy that he had only seen the water as low maybe twice before in his life.

While dumping was not a problem in the reservoir, he had found a safe in the water one.

“General domestic rubbish, or people throwing something in to the lake, is not a major problem,” he added.

The road was described as a local road with a “fair amount” of traffic on it.

Mark Quinn told the Central Criminal Court he stopped on the bridge to talk to his friend William Fegan, who showed him the yellow rope and shiny objects in the water.

He said “out of curiosity” he got the 15ft to 20ft strap from his car, which had a hook in it.

The first thing his pulled out was the white vest, which he put on the wall.

After a few more attempts he snagged the yellow rope, and it came out with the chains and handcuffs. Next fished out was the ball gag.

“There were another few attempts and the bondage restraints, as you called them, came up at one stage,” he said.

“Then the second items of clothing as well, the hoodie.”

Under cross examination, he told Mr Kennedy he never went back to the scene with gardai.

The trial is expected to continue tomorrow in the Central Criminal Court before Mr Justice Tony Hunt and a jury of seven men and five women.