On Wednesday 1 May, Mr Patrick Quirke (50) of Breanshamore County Tipperary was convicted of the murder of part-time DJ Bobby Ryan (52), who went by the moniker 'Mr Moonlight', following the longest murder trial in the history of the state.
Mr Ryan was initially reported missing on 3 June 2011, after spending the night at the house of his girlfriend, Ms Mary Lowry. The body of Mr Ryan was discovered by the accused on 30 April 2013, almost two years after he went missing, in a run-off tank on a farm owned by Ms Lowry at Fawnagowan.
However, Ms Lowry was not in possession of the farmlands in question as they had been leased out to the accused, Mr Quirke, with whom she had previously had an affair. It should be noted that Mr Quirke is married and while he admits to the affair, denied any involvement in Mr Ryan’s death.
Later described as a ‘concrete sarcophagus’ by the prosecution, the run-off tank in which Mr Ryan’s body was found is a structure that is commonly found on dairy farms across the country. The purpose of these tanks is to store water used in the washing of milking parlours.
Covered over by two heavy slabs of concrete, the tank on the Lowry farm at Fawnagowan is 1.6 metres deep, 3.6 metres long and 1.8 metres wide. It was here that gardaí found the body of Mr Ryan, with his head facing down and his arms placed unnaturally by his sides in approximately 250mm of water.
According to an engineer’s report quoted in this Independent.ie article, it would have been completely airtight once sealed, making it impossible for flies to get in or out. This is a crucial point, as the report of Khalid Jaber, then Deputy State Pathologist, noted the presence of recent fly activity within the body.
Moreover, expert evidence also established the curious fact that the run-off tank had been unsealed 11 days or more prior to the discovery of the body. This was based on the discovery of third instar larvae within the tank by forensic entomologist, Dr John Manlove, who flew from the UK to give evidence.
Mr Quirke claimed that he discovered the body by opening one part of the concrete cover to the run-off tank, however the gap was relatively small and gardaí suspected that he would not have been able to see the body as he claimed he had. Moreover, they did not buy Quirke’s claim that he opened the tank to obtain water for spreading slurry – as there would have been easier means of obtaining water.
Crucial to this case is Mr Quirke’s previous affair with Ms Lowry, a relationship she referred to as being ‘seedy’ while giving evidence during the trial. This affair, which began in 2008, was ended when Ms Lowry began seeing Mr Ryan.
The details of this affair were relayed to the jury via a letter which is alleged to have been written by Mr Quirke to Sunday Independent agony aunt, Patricia Redlich, in February 2011. The letter has been republished by RTÉ and can be read in full here.
By his own admission, Mr Quirke was still ‘in love’ with Ms Lowry even though they were no longer together. In 2012, Ms Lowry put up CCTV cameras around her house following a spate of break-ins. She told the court that when she watched the footage back, she saw Mr Quirke stealing underwear from her clothesline, and loitering around the front of the house. He gave a statement to the gardaí after this.
Ms Lowry then moved to terminate Mr Quirke’s lease on her land. He agreed to leave by July 2013, after securing a lease on a nearby farm owned by another woman, Ms Mary Dillon. Mr Quirke then found Mr Ryan’s body in the run-off tank, just three months before this lease was to end.
Mr Quirke was arrested on 20 January 2014 on suspicion of harassing Ms Lowry, but these charges were subsequently dropped before he was eventually arrested on suspicion of murder on 19 June 2014. When questioned by gardaí, he stated categorically that he did not kill Mr Ryan, and that ‘there is somebody out there who did do it and he is laughing at the moment because you are looking at me’.
As anyone who has followed this case in detail will surely attest, this case has been littered with strange occurrences and testimonies. An interesting report in the Irish Times details how the investigation took a ‘psychic twist’ when gardaí decided to follow up on a tip which came to them via water divination.
The family of Mr Ryan hired a water diviner, or dowsers as they are also known, to help locate their then-missing father. Water diviners hold brass rods over maps to locate the sought person or item, and in this instance, the rods seemed to indicate that Mr Ryan’s body would be found near Waterford.
Gardaí followed up the lead and sent the water unit to Ardmore, as close as possible to the water diviner’s indications as they could get. As the article details, this was just one of many strange leads the gardaí were offered by members of the public. Investigators received tip-offs that Ryan was in Barcelona or Portugal, that he had absconded to go full time with his DJ act.
However, none of these tips bore fruit as the body of Mr Ryan was ultimately found in the run-off tank in late April of 2013, just three short months before Patrick Quirke’s lease on Mary Lowry’s land was to end. This fact, coupled with some of the circumstantial evidence below, prompted gardaí to treat Quirke as the main suspect – which of course led to his ultimate conviction.
Due to the nature of the case and the lack of a ‘smoking gun’ in the form of a murder weapon or DNA, the prosecution of Mr Quirke was always going to hinge on less-than-stellar evidence from a legal standpoint. As we know, the jury must be confident ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that the accused is guilty and this is where the traditional aversion to circumstantial evidence has come from.
According to a special report by Barry Cummins on RTÉ’s Prime Time, investigators in this case took 300 witness statements and 700 separate lines of inquiry were followed up. According to the report, this is an inordinate number given the rural setting of the case in question. Since the body was decomposing in water no fingerprints were found, nor were any found on Mr Ryan’s van at the time he disappeared.
As such, the prosecution’s case leaned on circumstantial evidence – chiefly internet searches made by Mr Quirke which queried the rate of body decomposition in water, and other searches which suggested he had been researching famous murder cases in Ireland whereby the accused had almost evaded being answerable for their crimes. Amazingly, gardaí were able to deploy special technology which allowed them to trace imprints on a seemingly blank refill pad found in his home. On this pad Mr Quirke had apparently written reminders to himself to dispose of evidence, including Mr Ryan’s phone.
The work of the forensic entomologist was also crucial here, as it indicated the run-off tank had been opened in the weeks prior to Mr Quirke’s discovery of the body. All of this circumstantial evidence, when coupled with Ms Lowry’s testimony about him being an overpowering person and items like the agony aunt letter, were bound together by the prosecution to frame their case as a jealous former lover taking revenge on the new man on the scene, as it were.
Unlike direct evidence, circumstantial evidence relies on an inference to connect to a factual conclusion, defence teams can argue that prosecutors and investigators may be biased in that they have already reached a conclusion based on a hunch, and then look for evidence that might join up the dots.
A Sceptical Defence
Since there was no murder scene and no murder weapon for the jury to pore over, only circumstantial evidence remained. This fed the defence’s argument that the investigation was fraught with ‘systems failures’. Bernard Condon SC at one point queried why the gardaí had never searched Ms Lowry’s house, and indeed suggested that this should have been done immediately after he went missing.
The defence also argued that the discovery of a hair-clip in the run-off tank had been ‘airbrushed’ from the case, submitting that the obvious owner of such an item would have been the owner of the farm, Mary Lowry. The defence also doubted the quality of the fingerprint evidence. Prints taken from inside Mr Ryan’s van were never identified, whereas the prints that suggested Patrick Quirke had been inside the van were only matched in January of this year.
Attempting to introduce an element of doubt into the case, defence counsel Lorcan Staines SC queried whether the gardaí had been ‘badly let down’ by the Deputy State Pathologist at the time, Dr Khalid Jaber, when he refused to investigate the tank himself. However, Chief Superintendent Dominic Hayes responded by saying that the pathologist’s refusal to interrogate the scene had no impact on their investigation.
On Tuesday 23 April, Ms Justice Eileen Creedon commended the jury for partaking in such a long trial. She then proceeded to issue directions to the jurors, most notably reminding them of the paramountcy of the presumption of innocence and as such, that the onus of proof rested with the prosecution.
She noted that the accused does not have to take to the stand, as Mr Quirke had refused to, given that we have a constitutionally-protected right to silence. The judge instructed that this should not be held against the accused. She then reminded them that the prosecution’s case was supported by evidence of a largely circumstantial nature and as such, the verdict would have to be by a 11-1 or 10-2 majority.
Ms Justice Creedon also summarised the defence’s case, and that they contended that the evidence put forward by the prosecution did not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt by pointing to inconsistencies in some of Mary Lowry’s statements, the fact that fingerprint seemed to have been inadequately handled, the failure to search the house at Fawnagowan and the recovery of a hair-clip from inside the tank. She said that the defence claimed Mr Quirke’s Google searches could also have been explained by his curious nature.
The last direction the jury were left with was a reminder to remain dispassionate and to be certain in their conclusions. If there was a shred of doubt, acquittal was the correct decision. Following a week of deliberations, Mr Quirke was convicted of murder on Wednesday 1 May.
From a legal practice standpoint, the most intriguing aspect of this case is that a murder conviction was secured in the absence of direct evidence. As noted in Murdoch and Hunt’s Encyclopedia of Irish Law: ‘In cases of manslaughter and murder, the fact of death can be proved by circumstantial rather than by direct evidence; death can be inferred from such strong and unequivocal circumstances of presumption as to render it morally certain and leaves no room for reasonable doubt’.
Therefore, given the 10-2 verdict, it is fair to say that the jury were satisfied that the case put forward by the prosecution put this case beyond a reasonable doubt. Having been sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment, Mr Quirke is now expected to appeal his conviction. However, it is unclear at present what shape this appeal might take, and it would be unwise for the author of this article to speculate on same.
Note: This is intended to be a fair and accurate report of a public trial, compiled using second-hand news sources which have been acknowledged throughout. Any errors should be notified to the editor and will be dealt with accordingly. For further reading on issues raised in this trial, pre-order your copy of A Guide to Expert Witness Evidence by Mark Tottenham BL, Emma-Jane Prendergast, Ciaran Joyce and Hugh Madden.