The late Bobby Ryan (left) and Patrick Quirke (right)
Patrick Quirke has lost his appeal against his conviction for murdering popular DJ Bobby Ryan, whose decomposed body was found in a disused slurry tank on a farm leased by Quirke.
The Court of Appeal rejected more than 50 grounds of appeal argued by lawyers for Quirke during lengthy submissions made late last year. Mr Justice George Birmingham, delivering the judgement on behalf of the three-judge appeal court on Tuesday, November 16, said he was not persuaded by any of the arguments made on Quirke's behalf.
Mr Justice Birmingham also said that the Court of Appeal was uneasy about "an over-readiness to resort" to legal argument at trial. Quirke's trial was, at the time, the longest in Ireland's history and Mr Justice Birmingham described the number of voir dires - 'trials with a trial' that are usually held to decide on the admissibility of evidence - in this case as "extraordinary".
Quirke (52), of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary is serving a life sentence having been convicted in 2019 of the murder of popular DJ and father-of-two Bobby "Mr Moonlight" Ryan (52) at Fawnagowan in Tipperary. Mr Ryan disappeared on June 3, 2011 after he left his girlfriend Mary Lowry's home at Fawnagowan early in the morning.
His badly decomposed body was discovered in a disused, underground tank almost two years later on 30 April 2013 on farmland owned by Ms Lowry and leased by Quirke. Ms Lowry had previously had an affair with Quirke and the prosecution said that Quirke murdered Bobby Ryan so he could rekindle their affair and because he was financially dependent on Ms Lowry.
Quirke was not in court for today's judgement but watched via video link from prison. Wearing a grey suit and striped tie and a disposable face mask, he remained impassive when Mr Justice Birmingham confirmed that the jury's verdict would not be overturned.
In one lengthy part of the judgement, Mr Justice Birmingham considered whether the trial judge should have dismissed the jury after the prosecution had completed its case. Lawyers for Quirke argued that there was no evidence that Mr Ryan was murdered because the prosecution could not prove how he died. Bernard Condon SC, on behalf of Quirke, told the appeal court there was "no evidence, good bad or indifferent" and that the prosecution had produced only speculation and raised suspicion and nothing more about Quirke.
Counsel added that the motive pointed to by the prosecution, that Quirke wanted to rekindle his affair with Ms Lowry, did not prove that Quirke killed Mr Ryan.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the application gave the trial judge and the appeal court much to think about. He said there was justification for Mr Condon branding the case as "forensically barren" and he agreed that the prosecution could not say how Mr Ryan met his death and "were not in a position to put a weapon in the hands of a suspect."
The court then considered that Mr Ryan's body was found in a tank which was known about by only four people, including Quirke, who farmed and had access to the land. There was evidence of an emotional or romantic relationship between Quirke and Ms Lowry, his financial dependence on her, and his difficulty in accepting that the relationship had ended. Quirke then engaged in a number of "strange or bizarre" actions the court said, such as taking Ms Lowry's phone and sending text messages to and phoning Mr Ryan, almost resulting in the breakup of her relationship with the deceased. Quirke also took Ms Lowry's passport to disrupt her travel plans, contacted the HSE to falsely allege that she was guilty of child neglect and appeared uninvited on her porch in January 2011.
Mr Justice Birmingham pointed to further circumstantial evidence such as the discrepancy between what Quirke said his movements were on the day Mr Ryan disappeared and what artificial insemination technician Breda O'Dwyer said she saw on Quirke's farm that morning. There was further evidence of animus between Quirke and Mr Ryan, such as an untrue claim by Quirke that there was a bad smell from Mr Ryan. The prosecution had further evidence of the "continuing fixation" Quirke had on Ms Lowry when they discovered audio files on Quirke's computer of a conversation Ms Lowry had with her new boyfriend, Flor Cantillon, at Ms Lowry's home after Mr Ryan had disappeared. Neither Ms Lowry nor Mr Cantillon knew they were being recorded.
The court also pointed to "curious features" on the day when Quirke staged the discovery of Mr Ryan's body such as his claim that he was planning to spread slurry on the farm that day even though his lease was about to expire. The court said Quirke decided to draw water from a disused tank which he had never had cause to use before, a tank that held only a small volume of water. Gardai also told the trial that Quirke was not appropriately dressed for spreading slurry when they arrived.
The court also pointed to a false account Quirke gave in which he tried to suggest that Mary Lowry knew of the existence of the tank because she had seen him release from the tank a heifer that got its hoof caught. On the day that Quirke was snooping uninvited around Ms Lowry's home, December 3, 2012, there was also a search on Quirke's computer for "decomposition of bodies". Quirke told gardai that the search was related to the death of his son but Mr Justice Birmingham pointed out that "some of the most significant searches" relating to decomposition of bodies predated that tragedy.
Mr Justice Birmingham concluded that, "even this limited survey of the evidence makes clear that this was a circumstantial evidence case where there were many strands." He said the multiple strands "formed a very sturdy rope" such that the jury could properly return a guilty verdict.
The appeal court also dismissed the defence's argument that the trial judge should have declared the trial unfair. Mr Justice Birmingham noted that such applications are becoming more common and added: "We take this opportunity to deprecate such a developing practice." In this case, he said, he does not believe the arguments advanced "could possibly provide the basis for halting the trial," and added: "We have no hesitation in rejecting this ground out of hand."
The court found that a warrant to search and seize items from Quirke's home was "suboptimal" because it did not refer to computers, which were ultimately seized by gardai. However, he found that the absence of reference to computers was not a "fundamental error" although "greater specificity is to be preferred" when gardai are asking a District Court judge for a warrant.
The defence had also argued that much of Mary Lowry's evidence was prejudicial and irrelevant. Mr Justice Birmingham said the position taken by the defence was "unrealistic" given the "central significance" of Ms Lowry's evidence to provide the context for Mr Ryan's violent death. He added: "It is not for the accused to determine how the prosecution will present its case, and the accused is not entitled to insist that the prosecution should present its case in a sanitised version of events."
When it finished, Quirke's trial was the longest murder trial in Ireland's history, at 71 days. About half of the court's time was taken up with legal argument in the jury's absence. Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was uneasy about "an over-readiness to resort" to legal argument. He described the number of voir dires, trials within the trial, in this case as "extraordinary" and added: "If trials are to be kept within reasonable length, counsel need to consider carefully whether it is necessary to ask for a voir dire on an issue and trial judges need to consider whether a request for a voir dire should be acceded to." He said where an issue is a matter for the jury, lawyers should not try to get a "dry run" in the jury's absence.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the court had considered each ground of appeal carefully. He added: "We have asked ourselves whether anything we have heard during the course of the appeal hearing, or anything we have read, has caused us to have any doubts as to the safety of the verdict or the fairness of the trial, and we have concluded that is not the case."
Evidence at trial
During 13 weeks of evidence that was frequently interrupted by legal argument the jury learned that Mary Lowry was married to Martin Lowry, who was best man at Mr Quirke's wedding. Martin died in September 2007 leaving Mary widowed with three young boys. Quirke soon started farming Martin's land at Fawnagowan and helped Ms Lowry with her finances and farm issues. In 2008 he took a seven-year lease on what was now her land at a cost of e12,600 per year. It later emerged that a Single Farm Payment from the EU of e11,000 meant that the net cost of the lease to Mr Quirke was e1,600 per year.
Quirke also got an interest free loan from Ms Lowry of e20,000 which he later claimed he didn't have to repay.
In August 2010 Ms Lowry met Bobby Ryan at a dance and their relationship began. Ms Lowry described Bobby as a "breath of fresh air". He was fun and funny, they shared a love for dancing and music and he loved her three boys who also loved him. She was happy that she didn't have to hide the relationship and lie to her family.
On June 2, 2011 Bobby Ryan called to Ms Lowry's home some time after 9pm. He stayed the night and Ms Lowry said he awoke at 6am or 6.15am. They made love before he left at about 6.30am. She waited to hear his van cross the cattle grid at the end of her drive and would later tell gardai that he took longer than usual to drive away. She got up some time later, brought her children to school and dropped her mother-in-law Rita Lowry into town, as was her routine every Friday.
The alarm was raised when Mr Ryan failed to show up at Killough Quarry where he worked as a truck driver. He was described by his employer Niall Quinn as a perfect employee and punctual. When Mr Ryan's daughter Michelle found out he hadn't turned up for work she was immediately concerned. Her brother Robert Jnr called to Ms Lowry's home, thinking his dad was planning to head to the beach with his girlfriend as it was a beautiful day.
Ms Lowry drove to Tipperary Town where she met Michelle and together they drove towards Fawnagowan after Mary suggested they go for a cup of tea. On the way Michelle said she wanted to go to an area known as Kilshane Wood or Bansha Wood because she had a feeling she would find her dad's van in a wood. She couldn't explain why she thought this. When they arrived at the car park to the woods they immediately saw Bobby's van with the "Mr Moonlight" sticker across the top. His DJ equipment was inside but the doors were unlocked and Michelle noticed it was parked in gear and the seats were in an unfamiliar position. She told gardai her dad was not the last person to drive the van.
22 months later, On April 30, 2013, Mr Quirke's wife Imelda phoned Garda Tom Neville to say that her husband had discovered a body in a disused waste water tank on the land he was renting from Ms Lowry at Fawnagowan. Quirke was interviewed under caution that day and told gardai he was intending to spread slurry from a cow shed and needed water to agitate the slurry. He planned on drawing water from that tank as he knew it would be full after a leak from the mains had poured water into it for two days some weeks earlier.
Quirke told gardai he used a shovel to prise one of the slabs away just enough to allow him to place a pipe from his vacuum tanker in. As the vacuum tanker sucked, he said he noticed something in the tank that looked like a carpet or inflatable doll. He moved the second slab to get a better look and immediately knew it was a body and guessed it was Bobby Ryan's. He phoned his wife Imelda who came, confirmed what he had seen and phoned her friend Gda Neville.
Engineer Michael Reilly told the jury that the tank was porous and incapable of holding water. In his closing speech Michael Bowman SC for the prosecution said the discovery of the body was "staged", that there was no more than a few inches of sludgy water at the bottom of the tank and if Quirke was looking for water he would have seen that and immediately closed up the tank to look elsewhere.
The prosecution also relied on the evidence of Dr John Manlove, a forensic entomologist. Dr Manlove looked at fly larvae on the body and said they proved that the body had undergone a single infestation at least 11 days but more likely some weeks prior to the discovery on April 30. The prosecution suggested this was evidence that Mr Quirke opened the tank to check on the body before April 30. The defence argued that the water leak reported by the accused could have broken the seal on the tank creating enough of a gap for flies to get through.
Mr Bowman pointed to Quirke's desire to rekindle the relationship with Mary Lowry as his motive to kill Bobby Ryan. In interviews, Quirke repeatedly told gardai that he loved Mary Lowry and in a 'Dear Patricia' letter to the Sunday Independent he described how he had made a "right mess of my life" after falling "deeply in love with" his friend's widow.
He complained that he was left broken-hearted and angry after this woman started seeing another man and everything seemed to be working out for her. He added: "She refuses to discuss our affair and says it is in the past. She has confessed it to her new lover, while I have no closure and am forced to carry this dark secret alone. I now feel a tremendous amount of grief, and shame, for a lost love -- and am possibly suffering postponed grief for a dead friend -- all in silence." He said he loved his wife but was not "in love" with her and wished he could transfer his feelings for this other woman back to his wife.
In garda interviews Quirke talked about his anger towards Mary Lowry, complaining that she had deceived and abandoned him.
When Quirke's son died in a tragic accident in August 2012 he said Mary did not support him. Mr Bowman also pointed out that he was caught on CCTV at Ms Lowry's home in December 2012. She had gone out that morning and Quirke could be seen in her yard and shed. He peeked in her windows, took underwear from her line and looked into her post box. Then he used a key to open her door, triggering the house alarm. Ms Lowry had installed the CCTV due to her house alarm having been triggered multiple times in the previous months.
Her passport had gone missing in September 2012, taken from her home. She was planning a family holiday and realised the passport was missing when it was too late. After viewing the CCTV footage in December of that year Ms Lowry confronted Quirke about the passport and he replied: "I sold it and made money off it." He would later tell gardai this was sarcasm.
Quirke also reported Mary to Tusla, the child and family agency. Deirdre Caverley, who took the call, said Quirke told her Ms Lowry's children were being left unsupervised for long periods of time, mostly at weekends.
He said she had "lost the run of herself" and become fixated on her new relationship. Tusla found nothing untoward going on in the Lowry home. This, according to Mr Bowman, was the accused man's second attempt to scupper the relationship between Mary and Bobby.
Quirke's defence counsel Bernard Condon SC told the jury that evidence of motive, even if it were accepted, is not evidence of murder.
Following Bobby Ryan's disappearance Quirke claimed his affair with Ms Lowry was "rekindled", something she strenuously denied in the witness box. She said she couldn't remember staying with Quirke at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford in September 2011 despite evidence of a payment from her bank account to the Cliff House for more than e400. She accepted that she spent a night with him in Fitzpatrick's Hotel in Killiney, south Dublin in January 2012. She didn't want to be there, she said, adding that she got drunk, woke up with a sore head and went home. She added: "We did not rekindle our relationship." Quirke gave a different version to gardai. They had, he said, made love about three times, and although he noticed she was unhappy the following morning, he put it down to guilt rather than drink.
On St Patrick's weekend 2012 Ms Lowry met Flor Cantillon and they started dating. A recording of a conversation between Ms Lowry and Mr Cantillon was found on a hard drive in Quirke's home by gardai who searched the house in May 2013 following the discovery of the body. During that search gardai also seized a computer which they found had been used to search for "human body decomposition timeline" in December 2012, four months before the discovery. It had also been used to look at an article about the limitations of DNA evidence and several articles about body decomposition.
As part of their search gardai also found an A4 sheet which revealed a handwritten note with the words "what the guards will know". It contained references, Mr Bowman said, to what Mr Quirke had told gardai in interview following the discovery of the body including details about Mary Lowry and how it was strange that she couldn't say how long it took for Bobby Ryan's car to leave her drive that morning. Also written down were the words "murdered poss in house" and "dispose of clothes \ phone \ any other evidence."
In his closing speech Mr Condon told the jury that the evidence against Mr Quirke was enough only to arouse suspicion and not enough to convict a man of murder.
The jury found him guilty by a ten to two majority.
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