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Two versions of one killing -- jury must find the truth

THEY have sat through almost five weeks of evidence, but the jury in the Westmeath cold case trial must now focus their minds on the two conflicting tales of one killing.

At stake are the futures of 61-year-old Vera McGrath and 47-year-old Colin Pinder, the Liverpool man who was briefly married to Vera's daughter Veronica in 1987. Both deny the murder of Brian McGrath at his home in Coole, Westmeath, while Pinder has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Yesterday, as closing speeches got underway in the Criminal Courts of Justice, prosecution counsel Dominic McGinn suggested: "It's clear that Vera played a central role in the killing." Furthermore, he said Colin Pinder had every reason to lie about the events that occurred on that spring day in 1987, and that he had fabricated a story "that cast him in a better light".

During three harrowing days in the witness box, Veronica McGrath told the court she saw her fiance and her mother striking Brian McGrath before burying him in the back garden and later burning the remains. And while she wasn't sure of the exact date, she recalls that it occurred some time in March or April 1987, shortly before she married Pinder.

Some parts of her testimony appear to contradict the explanation given by Vera McGrath to gardai in 1993. By and large, however, the two descriptions of events follow the same trajectory.


Both women concur that the marriage of Vera and Brian was a stormy one. And both agreed that on the day in question there was a comment made by Vera, in jest or otherwise, that she wanted her husband dead.

Their unsettling tales tell of a suggestion by Pinder that he had "just the thing" to carry out a killing, before he brandished a silver spanner. And both women have claimed that Pinder struck Brian with a weapon at the house in Coole.

It all contradicts the stories given by Pinder to gardai in 1994 and again in 2008 and 2009, when he claimed that he hit Brian after a row broke out in the house, knocking him against the range.

Addressing the jury yesterday, Mr McGinn advised that the defence cross-examination of Veronica was directed towards showing that she was trying to minimise her own role in her father's death. The lengthy trial has also heard of the serious sexual allegation she made against her second husband, and the fact that a number of her children have been in State care.

As a result, he said, Veronica may not be "attractive" to the jury. Nonetheless, she provided a credible explanation for the fact that it took her six years to report the circumstances of her father's death to gardai. She claimed to have been threatened and was told nobody would believe her story and that she would be sent to St Loman's Institution in Mullingar.

Every aspect of her story, said Mr McGinn, ties in with the discovery of Brian McGrath's remains.

He said Vera McGrath had not only suggested the killing of her husband, but had encouraged it and was present and assisted at the scene.

"She was part of the joint plan with Colin Pinder," said Mr McGinn. As such, the "only true verdict" against the accused is one of murder.

Mr McGinn then turned to the interviews given by Colin Pinder to gardai. He first spoke to them in 1994, and then travelled to Ireland in 2008 and 2009 to give further statements.

However, his recollection of events changed considerably during this time, ranging from him having fled to England immediately after the killing to having stayed in the house to assist in the disposal of the body.

Crucially, Mr McGinn pointed out that Veronica's story showed "premeditation" on Pinder's part, "so he had every reason to lie about the events".

It was then the turn of Vera McGrath's counsel Patrick Gageby to address the jury. His first task was to point out that no charge of concealment had ever been placed against his client, a charge to which she would have pleaded guilty. And he questioned why it took 17 years to bring a prosecution case.

Mr Gageby then turned to the testimony of Veronica McGrath, questioning how a woman who claimed to have been horrified at the killing of her father could then go on to marry the man who carried out the killing. Not only that, but she returned to live in the house in Coole, an act that could only be done by "a person who had no compunctions about what had happened".

It all contributed to his assertion that the case against Vera McGrath was riddled with "landmines", and he urged the jury not to be "beguiled by the honeyed tone of the prosecution".

The jury returned to court today to hear the closing argument of Colin Pinder's counsel Conor Devally.