Breaking: Verdict reached by jury in Ireland longest ever murder trial

Court Reporter

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Court Reporter

quirke bobby ryan mary lowry

The late Bobby Ryan (left) and Patrick Quirke (right)

Patrick Quirke has been found guilty of the murder of Robert Ryan by a ten to two majority jury verdict at the Central Criminal Court.

Quirke had pleaded not guilty to the murder of 52-year-old Robert Ryan who disappeared after leaving his girlfriend Mary Lowry's home at about 6.30am on June 3, 2011. His body was found in an underground run-off tank on the farm owned by Ms Lowry and leased by Quirke at Fawnagown, Tipperary 22 months later in April 2013. The prosecution said Quirke murdered Mr Ryan so he could rekindle an affair with Ms Lowry (52).

Evidence in the trial, the longest murder trial in the history of the State, lasted for 13 weeks amid lengthy legal argument carried out in the absence of the jury. Barristers for the prosecution and defence took five days to complete their closing speeches to the jury who took 20 hours and 31 minutes to come to their decision.

Justice Eileen Creedon thanked the jury and exempted them from further service for life.

From the outset the prosecution said there was "no smoking gun" that would link Patrick Quirke to the murder of Bobby Ryan but Michael Bowman SC for the prosecution said that strands of circumstantial evidence would be woven together to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

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.

In early 2008 Mr Quirke and Ms Lowry began a sexual relationship, one that Ms Lowry described to the jury as "seedy" and "sordid" and something she regrets. She described Mr Quirke as overpowering and insisted she did not choose to have an affair but was led to have an affair. Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC described the relationship as consenting, between adults and suggested to the jury that Ms Lowry's description of it as sordid was based on hindsight and due to the fact she now regrets what she did.

In August 2010 Ms Lowry met Bobby Ryan at a dance. They kept in touch and he helped her to get tickets to the All Ireland hurling final and they started seeing each other more regularly. When Mr Quirke found out, he told gardai, he was angry and hurt. He took Ms Lowry's phone and texted Mr Ryan to tell him that he was in a relationship with Mary and she had not been honest. He then called Mr Ryan and told him: "I'm the man."

Ms Lowry had to plead with Mr Quirke to get her phone back. She spoke to Bobby about her affair with Mr Quirke and he accepted her explanation and offered to speak to Mr Quirke, to help him. Mr Ryan had suffered following the break-up of his own marriage and felt he could be of assistance. They met at Hayes's Hotel in Thurles, spoke for about an hour and shook hands. Ms Lowry said that following that meeting Mr Quirke told her that Bobby "smells". In garda interviews Mr Quirke said the meeting went well and he was glad to be able to let Mr Ryan know he wasn't a "monster".

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. When her late husband's family found out she was seeing someone they were happy for her and wished her well.

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 was by now also worried as Bobby had told her that following the break-up of his marriage he had suicidal thoughts. Robert said Ms Lowry was "shaking" when he saw her, and looked like a person who had just been in a car accident. Michelle went to a hospital looking for her dad and then to gardai to report him missing. 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.

A search focusing on the woods began and within a few days gardai searched the land and farm buildings at Fawnagowan but found nothing. The defence was critical of gardai for not searching Ms Lowry's home, the last place he had been reported alive.
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.

Mr 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. Part of the tank was covered by two movable slabs of concrete, each weighing about 25 stone (160 kilos). Over the rest of the tank was a larger piece of poured concrete not designed to be moved.

Mr 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 Mr Bowman 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 Mr Quirke was looking for water he would have seen that and immediately closed up the tank to look elsewhere. Mr Quirke told gardai that the tank was half to two-thirds full and he watched as the water was sucked out.

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 tamk. which was made airtight by muck and cow waste across its surface, 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 Mr Quirke's desire to rekindle the relationship with Mary Lowry as his motive to kill Bobby Ryan. In interviews Mr 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 Mr Quirke talked about his anger towards Mary Lowry, complaining that she had deceived and abandoned him. When Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Quirke about the passport and he replied: "I sold it and made money off it." He would later tell gardai this was sarcasm and deny the theft.

Mr Quirke also reported Mary to Tusla, the child and family agency. Deirdre Caverley, who took the call, said Mr 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.
Mr Quirke's defence counsel Bernard Condon SC told the jury that evidence of motive, even if it were accepted, is not evidence of murder. He further pointed out that there was no independent evidence to support Ms Lowry's claim that Mr Quirke stole her passport or that he assaulted her during a discussion over whether she should compensate him after his cattle was infected by a disease from her late husband's herd.

Mr Quirke's financial dealings with Ms Lowry formed another aspect of the prosecution's case with Mr Bowman telling the jury that the accused relied on Ms Lowry financially and emotionally. Soon after Martin's death Mr Quirke used e80,000 of Ms Lowry's money to invest in Contracts for Difference. He made, he said, about €80,000 over 18 months on that investment and split the profits evenly with Ms Lowry. It also emerged that he had taken a €20,000 loan from her without drawing up a repayment agreement. He further told her that his herd had been infected with Bovine Venereal Diarrhoea by one of her late husband's cows and that she should compensate him. He would go on to claim that Ms Lowry agreed to let him keep the e20,000 as compensation, something Ms Lowry strongly denied. She said he harassed and intimidated her looking for the money and insisted they did not agree on compensation.
Following Bobby Ryan's disappearance Mr 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 Mr 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." Mr 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 Mr 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. When this was put to Mr Quirke in interview he told gardai that his son had died, adding: "That is all I'm saying." He also told gardai that if he had known where Bobby Ryan's body was and wanted to know its condition he could have just opened the tank to look.
Gardai put it to him that a search relating to decomposition was carried out before his son's death in August 2012. He said his explanation did not cover all the searches, but did explain the search in December 2012. He denied that this "blew out of the water" his explanation for why he was looking up information on 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."
Mr Bowman said this note was written before April 30 which would mean that Mr Quirke was preparing for his garda interviews before the discovery of the body. Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC said it was more likely the note was written after the interviews and suggested to the jury that his client had essentially been accused of murder by gardai and so it was normal for him to write down what had happened.
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. He pointed out that the searches contained no references specific to this case, such as decomposition in water or in a sealed tank. He questioned the evidence of Ms Lowry, who he said was a liar, a dangerous witness and that part of her evidence was "a piece of the most devious poison that has been delivered across the face of the Central Criminal Court for many a year."
He particularly noted that in 2011 she told gardai that she saw Mr Quirke at Fawnagowan at 8.30 on the morning Mr Ryan went missing and that it would be normal for him to be coming and going at all hours. She knew he was going away that weekend and probably wanted to get jobs done early. In 2013, she changed her position to say it was unusual for him to be there so early and she had noted he was "hot and sweaty and bothered looking". In the witness box she denied knowing that he was going away for the weekend.
Mr Condon told the jury that the computer searches raised nothing more than suspicion and that is not enough to convict a man of murder. The evidence of Ms Lowry, he said, was unreliable. The prosecution said the evidence of Mr Quirke's jealousy and his emotional and financial reliance on Ms Lowry formed the motive. He had the opportunity, he was the only person with full access to the tank and his explanation for why he opened the tank on April 30, 2013 did not hold water. Neither, Mr Bowman said, did his explanation for searching for information relating to the decomposition of bodies.
As the trial came towards its close there was heightened tension in court. On the third day of the jury's deliberations there was a scuffle at the front door as Mr Quirke felt photographers were blocking his entry to the building. His legal team raised concerns that members of the jury might have seen what happened and Justice Creedon ordered the media to give Quirke space.
Throughout the trial the heightened interest around the country was reflected by the number of people who showed up every day to listen and watch from the public seats. They travelled from all over the country, many pensioners using their free bus and rail passes. Some complained to gardai that they had been queuing since early morning while others expected to be seated despite arriving just as the day's proceedings were about to start.
It was a packed courtroom that finally heard that Quirke had been convicted, by a majority verdict, of the murder of Bobby Ryan.