| 16.2°C Dublin

I heard father beg for mercy as my mother and lover beat him to death with a spanner

"HAVE mercy on me". They were words of desperation, uttered in terror more than 23 years ago, but they still remained painfully clear in the mind of Veronica McGrath.

At the Central Criminal Court, the woman was describing her memory of the death of her father Bernard Brian McGrath at his home in Coole, Co Westmeath, in March or April 1987.

She couldn't be too sure of the exact date, yet her father was certainly lying in a shallow grave by April 18, 1987, the day she married Liverpool man Colin Pinder.

More than two decades on, Pinder and Veronica's mother Vera are on trial for Bernard's murder. For the jury, the first full day of evidence in this trial painted a horrific picture.

They heard of a man begging for mercy as killer blows rained down upon him, and details of his body being wrapped in a blanket before being dragged outside.

Then there was the description of his burial in a shallow grave, followed several months later by a haphazard exhumation and gruesome cremation until all that was left was "a bag of bones".



Surprise

As the harrowing tale unfolded, the jury listened to Veronica's description of an evening in the spring of 1987. She and her then-husband-to-be Colin were in their caravan with her mother Vera.

At one point, she said Vera had asked Colin to kill Bernard and he had agreed. Veronica hadn't reacted to this bizarre request. Questioned by defence counsel Patrick Gageby, the witness explained: "I heard my mum wish my father was dead on many occasions. It came as no surprise."

The well-spoken witness described how she had moved back to Westmeath at the age of 18 with Pinder after they met in England.

She told the court how her parents often rowed and, on occasion, this had resulted in Vera taking Veronica and her three young sons away to womens' refuges in Dublin and Athlone. On the fateful evening in 1987, Veronica recalled that her mother was "in a bit of a state".

"All I remember is she wanted my father dead, and that was it", she explained.

Veronica recalled hearing her mother asking her fiance to kill Bernard.

Colin allegedly replied that he had "the very thing", and produced a silver spanner.

At the side of the court, Vera McGrath, who denies murder, sobbed quietly as she listened. She did not look towards her former son-in-law and co-accused, who has admitted manslaughter but denies murder.

Veronica explained how she and Colin had walked back to the family home along with Bernard and Vera on that tragic evening. In a statement given to gardai in 1993, six years after the death, Veronica had described seeing Colin holding a silver spanner and being fearful that Colin would harm her father.

She then headed up the field to where her dog was tied up and that when she returned she saw her father lying on the ground. Yet she delivered a more detailed recollection of events yesterday, explaining how she saw her fiance and mother hitting her father with a number of weapons. "Several times he asked for mercy," offered Veronica, her voice wavering.

Veronica explained how she had slept in an armchair in the kitchen of the family home on the night of her father's death.

"The next thing I remember was my mother shaking me by the arm and saying there was a big mess, or things were bad outside, it was messy outside."



Ghastly

She went to investigate and saw "a lot of blood and mucus". A clean-up operation was needed, and Veronica told how her mother had handed her "a blue-handled hair brush with white bristles".

That wasn't the end of the desperate tale. Shortly after Bernard's death, Veronica married. Her mother then headed to England for "a couple of months" with Veronica's three younger brothers while the newlyweds stayed in the family home.

Yet, following her mother's return from England, the ghastly spectacle of her father's death would be revisited.

Veronica explained: "My father was dug up from where he was". The body was then burnt in "a big fire which went on for a couple of days".

Casting her mind back to that bleak scene, Veronica said she ventured out to the garden to look closer at the fire and saw her father's ribcage protruding from the debris.

She claimed Pinder and Vera McGrath were "sifting through the fire and bringing things down to the house in biscuit tins.

"The bones were put in this biscuit tin. Some went into the range and some went into the septic tank."

Some six years later, when investigating officers combed the land surrounding the house at Coole, they uncovered what amount to "half a bucket of bones".

The trial continues.


Privacy