Roy Webster convicted of the murder of Anne Shortall
When the State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy told the jury in Roy Webster’s murder trial that Anne Shortall’s death would have been “rapid”, her sister let out a sigh of relief from the public gallery and whispered “thank God” to herself. On Friday, she let out another sigh of relief when Webster was found guilty of murder.
The verdict was a unanimous one in the end and it took the men and women of the jury seven hours and forty three minutes to reach it. Webster had offered to plead guilty to manslaughter before the trial got underway but the Director of Public Prosecutions felt there was enough evidence against him to convince the jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill the mother-of-three on Good Friday 2015.
Roy Webster met Anne Shortall on a Christmas night out in 2014 and while he cosied up to her in a Wicklow Town pub, his pregnant wife was at home looking after their 4-year-old daughter. Roy told Anne he fancied her and she said she felt the same. He declined his friend’s offer to share a taxi home and went back to Anne’s apartment on the South Quay where he said “one thing led to another”. He claimed he told her he was “married with one kid and one on the way” but followed her to her bedroom nonetheless. He later told Gardaí they had sex but that he was too drunk to ejaculate. He went home to his wife in Ashford the following morning and told her he stayed with a friend. It was the first of many lies Roy Webster told in the months that followed.
A few weeks later, he received a Facebook friend request from Anne Shortall. He declined it straight away. His cousin Stephen rang him sometime later to say that Anne was looking to get in touch with him. Stephen wryly asked if he had been a “bad boy”. Roy wondered if she was looking for “round two” and rang her eventually but didn't get through. Anne rang him on his landline in late February 2015 while he was feeding his newborn son. She just told him to check his Facebook page but there was nothing on it so he assumed she was “drunk and looking for a booty call”. He was wrong. Anne text him a few days later and his whole world came crashing down when he read the words: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m pregnant”.
They arranged to meet up on Holy Thursday 2015. Roy met her outside her flat and declined her invitation to go inside for a chat. He later told Gardaí that she wanted £6,500 for an abortion. When he questioned her about the pregnancy, he said she refused to show him a test. He said she told him she was going to go to London the following day to “get the job done” and he felt the pressure was on. They arranged to meet again on Good Friday 2015.
Gardai at Roy Webster's home in April, 2015
Roy Webster drove a very distinctive silver van that had the name of his business and his details emblazoned across the side of it. He put down some tiles for a woman in Greystones before driving to a pub in Wicklow Town where he picked up Anne Shortall. He drove to a secluded part of The Murrough just outside the town for privacy. Again, he asked her for proof that she was pregnant. He felt it was impossible. She refused. He told Gardaí that when she realised he didn't have any money for her, she got out of the van shouting “don't you f**king worry, I’ll sort it out myself”. He said he got out and went around to her side of the van where they argued. He gave the following account of what happened next to Gardaí:
“She kept threatening to ring my wife and ring the house. I was thinking this can't be happening. She said she knew where I lived and was going to ‘blow the lid’ if I didn't get her the money. I pleaded with her. I begged her not to ruin my life. She said she didn't give a s**t. I didn't know what to do. I could see my whole world crashing down around me. I thought ‘this one has me backed up against a wall and is going to ruin me and my family.”
At this point, Roy Webster, a man described by one witness during the trial as “100% genuine”, opened the side door of his van, reached inside, grabbed a claw hammer and hit her in the middle of the forehead.
“She felt back into the van”, he said.
“She told me she’d ruin me so I hit her again. It was like I was looking down at myself doing it. I hit her a few blows and there was blood pouring out of her head.
“I couldn’t believe how much blood there was. It was like watching a horror movie.
Webster told Gardaí he only hit her three or four times but Professor Cassidy identified at least nine separate blows to her head. Her left cheek bone was also broken and she had some marks on her neck and defence type wounds on her arms.
After the frenzied attack, Webster grabbed a role of silver duct tape and wrapped it around her head. When asked why he had done that, he later told Detective Sergeant Fergus O’Brien that he was trying to stop the bleeding. The way he wrapped the tape around her head suggests a far more sinister intention. Professor Cassidy said it was wrapped from chin to forehead and completely blocking her airways. It was not possible to establish whether she was alive or not when the tape was applied but Professor Cassidy said she would have had “no chance of survival” if it was applied before she died from her injuries.
Webster’s behaviour afterwards was nothing short of psychopathic. While standing in the back of his van with Anne Shortall’s body at his feet, he bound her hands in front of her body to stop her from “flailing around” and drove to his local Centra to pick up some groceries. He went home to his wife, ate dinner, fed his six-week old baby, played with his daughter, watched some TV and enjoyed a glass of wine before falling asleep on his couch. He was awoken by a phone call from a number he didn’t recognise. It was one of Anne Shortall’s daughters looking for her mother. Anne had left her phone at home with messages from Roy still on it. He told her she had the wrong number and he didn’t know what she was talking about. Another lie.
The lies flowed over the four days that followed. He told Gardaí investigating her disappearance that he met her on Good Friday and said she was talking about starting a relationship but that he wasn’t interested because he was married. He said they had only “shifted” in the past and that she was talking about visiting a friend of hers in London. At this point, the cabinet fitter had moved her body into his workshop where he hid her behind some plywood.
Gardai outside the workshop where Anne Shortall's body was eventually found in April 2015
Anne’s disappearance remained a mystery until Detective Sergeant O’Brien got involved. Roy had been contacted by Gardaí a number of times but he felt something was not right and arranged a meeting at his home in Ashford on April 7th 2015. He and his colleague Garda Michael Hall were greeted at the door by Roy and his wife who had their baby in her arms.
Detective Sergeant O’Brien is one of the best interrogators in the force, but his skills were not required on this occasion. Roy’s wife was asking all the questions.
“Did you hurt her Roy?”, she asked. “Yes”.
“Did you hit her Roy?”. “I did”.
“With what?”. “A hammer”.
When he told the officers where Anne’s body was, his wife gasped and fell to her knees with her child still in her arms. Roy was sobbing and the confession started gushing from his mouth. Garda Hall took the baby and put on the kettle. Detective O’Brien told him to get a pen and paper from the squad car.
While questioning him in an interview suite in Wicklow Garda Station the following day, Detective O’Brien was handed the preliminary results of the post mortem carried out by Professor Cassidy. It confirmed that Ms. Shortall was not pregnant. “I f**king knew it” was Webster’s response.
Police conduct their investigation at Webster's home, April 2015
Roy Webster admitted killing Anne Shortall. That was never in doubt. But he claimed he just lost control after being provoked by her threats and blackmail. Provocation can reduce murder to the lesser charge of manslaughter but the jury did not believe him.
Webster looked stunned when the unanimous murder verdict was read out on Friday afternoon. The blood drained from his face and his eyes widened in utter surprise. He stared straight at the lady foreman and shook his head in disbelief as he was being led out of the courtroom. He later mouthed “sorry” to the Shortalls who held hands and sobbed in the public gallery.
He wasn’t the only one who thought he might get away with murder. A line slashed through the words “unlawfully killed” in a Victim Impact Statement prepared by Anne Shortall’s brothers and sisters suggested the possibility of an acquittal on the murder charge had obviously entered their minds too. But at 12.40pm on Friday, the crossed-out words were replaced by “brutally murdered”.