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Murder accused signed husband into mental care

A woman charged with murdering her husband 23 years ago signed him into a mental institute two years before his death, their doctor told her trial.

Dr Patrick Cullen was giving evidence to the Central Criminal Court on the eighth day of the cold-case trial of Vera McGrath and Colin Pinder.

Vera McGrath (61) has pleaded not guilty to murdering 43-year-old Bernard Brian McGrath at their home in Lower Coole, Westmeath, on a date between March 10 and April 18, 1987.


Her former son-in-law, Colin Pinder (47), of Liverpool, England, has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.

Dr Cullen identified his hand-written referral letter dated March 6, 1985 and addressed to the doctor in charge of St Loman's Hospital, Mullingar. It acknowledged Mr McGrath's admission to the hospital.

Dr Cullen said he was not the McGrath family GP at the time and saw them out of hours or in emergencies only, about three or four times in total.

Conor Devally, defending Pinder, noted from the letter that McGrath and the couple's daughter, Veronica, complained that Mr McGrath had delusions and hallucinations, and had changed into a violent person, becoming violent over mundane events. They complained of recurrent recent assaults by him, he suggested.

"I've a reference there that she has bruises on her legs," said the doctor of the daughter.

"They both seem petrified and daughter has bruises ++," read Mr Devally. Dr Cullen explained to him that '++' meant 'lots'.

Mr Devally asked the doctor why there was no mention in the letter of him seeing the patient himself.

"My recollection is that Mr McGrath wouldn't wait to be seen," he replied.

Dr Cullen also identified an accompanying document, which he agreed caused Mr McGrath's committal to hospital.

The doctor had filled in the form in the presence of McGrath, who signed a section stating that her husband was not capable of deciding whether to enter hospital voluntarily.

Dr Cullen had signed another section stating that he was of the opinion that Mr McGrath required mental treatment and was unfit as a voluntary patient.

"I examined the person named in paragraph one," it read.

The doctor identified another form dated March 6, which he had filled in as a garda requirement.


"Wife has multiple bruising following alleged assaults," it read.

He had described Mr McGrath as "aggressive, agitated and annoyed". The date of his examination was given as February 1985, but had been crossed out and the word 'Invalid' inserted.

"My understanding of this would have been that I'd actually seen him on the 20th of February," said the doctor.

Mr Justice John Edwards noted that carbon paper seemed to have been used in filling in the form as he could read another patient's address beneath Mr McGrath's.

Denis Vaughan Buckley, prosecuting, re-examined the witness on his date of examining Mr McGrath.

"I may have seen him before," he said, explaining that he was going by the date that was crossed out on the form.

"Why would you certify someone into a mental hospital who you hadn't seen before?" asked Mr Vaughan Buckley. However, Mr Justice Edwards did not allow this question, saying he couldn't cross-examine the witness.

Earlier a neighbour of the McGrath family said he had confronted Dr Cullen in 1989 about Mr McGrath's committal.

"I challenged him with putting in Brian McGrath," testified John Kiernan, who said he had been in St Loman's too. "I told the doctor he was a missing man," he continued. "I always had my suspicions."

Mr Kiernan said that Mr McGrath was a good man and Mrs McGrath had been a good mother.

The trial continues today in the absence of the jury, which is due to return tomorrow.