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'Mr Moonlight' killer Patrick Quirke to appeal conviction in Supreme Court

Farmer Quirke (53) was jailed for life for murdering love rival Bobby Ryan following the longest criminal trial in the history of the State

Patrick Quirke pictured in 2019. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Shane Phelan

Patrick Quirke, who was jailed for life for the murder of love rival Bobby Ryan, has been given leave to appeal his conviction to the Supreme Court.

The decision came after Quirke appealed against a Court of Appeal decision not to overturn his conviction or grant him a new trial.

The Court of Appeal rejected 52 grounds of appeal in the high-profile case, which became known as the 'Mr Moonlight' trial.

It found the trial judge took the correct approach in dealing with admissibility of evidence in the case.

However, the Supreme Court has now said it will hear a further appeal on two grounds, which it found to be matters of general public importance.

The first relates to the extent of any requirement to identify what might be searched for when applying for a search warrant.

The second relates to the discretion vested in the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what witnesses she calls at trial, with particular reference to expert witnesses.

In a determination published today, the Supreme Court said these issues may arise in other criminal trials in the future, and it would be in the public interest to obtain further clarity.

Patrick Quirke. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Farmer Quirke (53) of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary was jailed in 2019 for the murder of Mr Ryan (52), a part-time DJ known as ‘Mr Moonlight’, following the longest criminal trial in the history of the State.

The prosecution said he carried out the killing so he could rekindle an old affair with Mr Ryan’s girlfriend Mary Lowry.

Mr Ryan disappeared on June 3, 2011 after spending the night at Ms Lowry’s home in Fawnagown, Co Tipperary. He was 52.

His body was discovered in a run-off tank on Ms Lowry’s farm, which Quirke had been renting, in April 2013.

The prosecution alleged the find was staged by Quirke as his lease was to be terminated and he was about to lose control of the land.

Ms Lowry, a widow, had previously been in a relationship with Quirke between 2008 and 2012. Quirke was married to her late husband Martin’s sister Imelda.

Issues relating to a search warrant were a key part of Quirke’s failed appeal at the Court of Appeal.

Quirke’s trial heard a warrant was sought and obtained from the District Court in respect of his home on May 13, 2013. Gardaí executed the warrant four days later and among the items seized was a computer.

An examination of the computer revealed that an internet search for “a human corpse post-mortem: the stages of decomposition” was conducted on July 25, 2012.

Another internet search for “how DNA works” was conducted prior to September 11, 2012.

It also appeared that further internet searches on human decomposition were performed on December 3, 2012.

During the trial, counsel for Quirke took issue with the search warrant for several reasons.

These included that the sworn information grounding the application for the warrant and therefore the warrant itself did not make any reference to computers but did refer to “any other evidence”.

Quirke’s counsel argued that the warrant was bad or inadequate on its face, that the information given to the District Court judge was too limited to allow the judge make a proper determination, and that there was a very specific failure to inform the judge of the intention of the gardaí to seek out and seize computers.

However, the trial judge, Ms Justice Eileen Creedon, allowed the evidence to be admitted.

She found that the warrant was valid, and that the information provided was adequate to allow the District Court judge to properly determine whether she should grant the warrant.

Ms Justice Creedon was also satisfied, as a matter of law, that there was no requirement that the information must contain a definitive list of all of the evidence to be seized and there was no requirement to specifically inform the District Court judge of the intention to seek out or seize computers.

The Court of Appeal found that while the absence of any reference to computers was “sub-optimal”, the omission was not fatal to the validity of the warrant.

The second issue which will form the focus of the Supreme Court appeal relates to the way pathology evidence was heard at the trial.

The former State Pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy, and the former Northern Ireland pathologist Professor Jack Crane agreed Mr Ryan’s death had been caused by blunt force trauma.

However, there was a divergence in opinion as to what caused this.

Professor Cassidy and her colleagues felt that the injuries were most likely due to vehicular impact trauma, while Professor Crane was of the view that while that was possible, there was no real evidence to support that contention.

Counsel for Quirke felt then in those circumstances, the appropriate course of action was that both expert pathology witnesses, Dr Michael Curtis, on behalf of Professor Cassidy’s team, and Professor Crane, should be called by the prosecution.

However, the prosecution team was not open to this and indicated that if requested by the trial judge to call Dr Curtis, they would decline.

The trial judge ruled against a defence request that she should invite the DPP to call Dr Curtis or that the judge herself should call Dr Curtis.

Following this ruling, a compromise was agreed where the prosecution called Professor Crane and the defence called Dr Curtis. It was agreed that Dr Curtis would be called out of turn and would give evidence directly after Professor Crane.

The defence complained that the difficulties it faced were compounded by the fact that when they called Dr Curtis, the prosecution took advantage of the situation to canvass and explore theories for which there was no real evidential basis.

The Court of Appeal found that the position adopted in relation to the calling of pathology evidence was “sub-optimal from the defence perspective and was undoubtedly unusual”.

However, it said the trial judge took the view the decision by the DPP not to present diverging, conflicting opinions was a responsible and a conscientious one.

The Court of Appeal found that once that view was taken, the scope for the trial judge to request the prosecution to call a further witness, or to herself call a further witness, was very limited.

It also said it had no hesitation in rejecting any suggestion that there was anything untoward or improper in the prosecution exploring matters with Dr Curtis, once he was called to give evidence.

It said that any party to a trial, be it civil or criminal, knows that calling a witness means that the other side will have an opportunity to cross-examine and that there may be downsides for the party calling the witness in that regard.

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