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Aoife Finneran: Cold and calculating wife whose hatred ended in a grisly murder

AS Vera McGrath calmly sifted through the charred remains of her husband Brian, she no doubt assumed her problems were finally over.

Having endured years of a stormy marriage, her fractious situation had come to an abrupt end when she bludgeoned her husband outside their home in Coole, Westmeath.

Not content with that, she coolly dissuaded her future son-in-law Colin Pinder from alerting gardai. Instead, she insisted: "No one will ask any questions because he's always going off. People are being murdered in the North all the time."

It was enough to convince Liverpool man Pinder, who had himself unwittingly played a part in the killing. A shallow grave was dug, into which Brian McGrath's remains were laid.

Tracks

Yet it wasn't enough for Vera McGrath, who later persuaded Pinder to dig up the body. Together, they broke it up and burnt it in a fire that raged for seven hours. Some of the bones were then tossed into the kitchen range. More were thrown into the septic tank while the remainder were returned to the ground along with the ash from the fire.

But Vera was still keen to cover her tracks. Sometime after the killing, she and her daughter travelled to a solicitor's office in Granard with the aim of securing a barring order against her already-deceased husband. Veronica would later testify in court that Vera had asked her to bite her to make it look like Brian had assaulted her.

Colin Pinder had married Veronica in April 1987 and stuck around long enough for the birth of his first child in December. Two weeks later he returned to England and attempted to carve out a new life for himself.

Nonetheless, he remained haunted by the macabre events in which he had taken part in Ireland. It would be a further six years before Veronica McGrath alerted gardai to the grim secret in the garden of the cottage in Coole. And when he was questioned by gardai, Pinder admitted that he had struck Brian McGrath.

He recalled that he wasn't welcome in the family home because of the colour of his skin, but had entered the house one evening at the invitation of Vera. He claimed that Brian returned unexpectedly and shouted at his daughter: "You get out with your n****r boyfriend."

Pinder then told gardai: "I just lost my temper and I hit him, quite hard. He spun around and fell down and hit the corner of the range with his head. There was like a dent in his forehead."

He recalled that McGrath often hit his children, saying: "He leathered them the night he died."

And he added: "I'm not a murderer. I just wanted to give him a good hiding".

He did not recall hearing Vera McGrath say that she wished her husband was dead.

During the trial that finally came to court more than 23 years after the killing, both Vera and Veronica delivered similar accounts of that fateful night.

Both had described how Vera visited the caravan occupied by Veronica and Colin and passed the comment that she wished Brian was dead.

As Veronica later told the court, this came as no surprise as she was used to hearing her mother make such remarks.

This time, however, Vera McGrath was keen to ensure that her wish would come true.

Back at the house in Coole, after Colin Pinder had first hit her husband, Vera lifted a weapon and struck another blow. Her daughter observed it all, later telling the court that she saw Vera hitting her father with a lump hammer.

She wasn't satisfied to stop until the chilling sound of a death rattle emanated from Brian's throat.

Her murderous deeds had left a horrific mess outside, but Vera calmly instructed her daughter to clean the blood and mucus off the walls.

Her cold, scheming actions were completely at odds with the subdued downtrodden figure that presented in court each day of the trial.

Dressed in dowdy clothes, her auburn hair hanging limply and eyes staring unseeingly from thick-rimmed glasses, Vera McGrath looked every inch the tormented housewife. Yet her appearance belied the truth, that of a calculating woman whose hatred for her husband was such that she had even drugged him and dressed him in women's clothes in a bid to have him committed to a psychiatric institution.

When the dismembered, charred remains of her husband were finally uncovered in 1993, Vera told her story to gardai. Yet three years later, she received a letter from gardai informing her that the case was now closed.

Depression

That might have been the end of it were it not for advances in DNA testing. In 2008, the body of Brian McGrath was exhumed and positively identified; setting in motion a series of events that would lead to Vera being charged with murder.

By now, Pinder was living in Liverpool, having attempted to block the grim aspects of his past from memory. Suffering from agoraphobia and depression, he immediately cooperated with gardai and told them he was glad that the horrific incident was finally coming to light.

In the end, a jury took just over four hours to conclude that he had not intended to kill Brian McGrath, finding him guilty of manslaughter but not guilty of murder.

Into the 10th hour of deliberations they finally emerged with a verdict of murder against Vera McGrath.


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