Man who dined with wife as woman he murdered lay hidden in van appeals conviction

A cheating husband who bludgeoned a woman to death with a hammer after she allegedly threatened to tell his wife about their one-night-stand, has brought an appeal against his conviction for murder.

Roy Webster acted “completely normal” as he chatted to his wife and her friend, ate dinner, and drank wine in front of the television, while the bound and bloodied-body of Anne Shortall (47) lay hidden in the back of his van.

The 42-year-old, of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow, had denied murdering Ms Shortall at The Murrough, near Wicklow Town on April 3, 2015, claiming he was provoked.

But he was unanimously found guilty of murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on March 24, 2017.

Webster moved to appeal his conviction in the Court of Appeal today, which focused on the trial judge’s instructions to the jury on the defence of provocation.

Webster’s barrister, Michael Bowman SC, said the test for provocation was subjective, and was based on what was going through Webster’s mind at the time. But in his instructions to the jury, the trial judge referred to an objective standard “unnecessarily”, Mr Bowman submitted.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the court hoped to deliver judgment quickly, this upcoming Friday, December 20.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Webster met Ms Shortall, a separated mother of three grown-up children, at The Forge pub in Wicklow Town, during a Christmas night out on December 20, 2014. They had sex in her house and Webster fell asleep.

The next morning Webster went home to his wife Sinead, who was pregnant with their second child at the time, and lied about having spent the night on a friend’s couch.

Webster told gardaí that he thought that was the end of the affair and life would go on. He was described by witnesses as a “happy go lucky” man who ran his own cabinet-making business, ‘Ashwood Kitchens’. His van was well known around Wicklow Town and it had his name and that of his business painted on the side.

The court heard that in late 2014 and early 2015 Anne Shortall was having money problems, and had just been served with an eviction notice telling her to be out by April 9.

She tried contacting Webster via a mutual friend on Facebook and searched online for ‘Ashwood Kitchens’. Having gotten his contact details, she would call Webster between 2am and 4am, and send him text messages. In one of those texts she falsely stated: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I’m pregnant.”

Webster called to her home on South Quay in Wicklow Town on April 2, but didn’t go inside. She said she needed £6,500 for an abortion. He told her he wanted proof she was pregnant and they agreed to meet again the following day, Good Friday.

Webster picked her up in Wicklow Town and they drove to The Murrough, a quiet area to the north of the town frequented mostly by dog walkers and hikers.

He told gardai that Ms Shortall did not provide proof of pregnancy but wanted the money. When he told her he didn’t have the money, he said she became angry and threatened to tell his wife about the night they spent together on December 20.

Webster told gardaí that he wanted to reason with her and begged her not to ruin his life but she kept threatening him. He said he felt he was against a wall and that he could see his life crashing down. “She was threatening my family and my livelihood,” he told gardai.

He opened the side door of his van and grabbed a hammer, which he used to hit her nine times on the head. He secured her wrists with duct tape and wrapped more tape around her head.

Having placed the body in the back of his van Webster then drove to a nearby Centra shop in Ashford where he called his wife to find out if she needed anything. He drove home and, with Anne’s body still in his van, chatted with his wife and her friend Carmel Phibbs. Ms Phibbs made a statement to gardai in which she said Webster was “completely normal” and only seemed concerned about a small cut on his elbow that he said he got doing a tiling job that day.

He told gardai he had a cup of coffee, ate dinner, had a glass of wine and fell asleep in front of the television with his wife by his side. He said it was like he “blanked” the attack from his mind and felt as though he was back in his own skin.

Meanwhile, Ms Shortall’s daughters became concerned when they discovered their mother was missing. They contacted Webster, whose details were on her phone, which she had left behind, but he told them they had a wrong number.

Over the weekend, he went shopping with his wife and moved Anne’s body along with some bloodied tools to his workshed. On Easter Sunday, he had what he called a “pyjama day”.

The following week, Webster was being linked to Anne’s disappearance on social media.

Giving evidence on day three of the trial, Detective Sergeant Fergus O’Brien said Webster’s wife, Sinead, then turned her attention to her husband, asking him: “Have you anything to say that you are not saying?” and “If you have something to say, speak now.”

When she asked: “Did you hurt her, Roy?” his head went down and he started to cry. “I did. I hit her with a hammer,” he said. He revealed that her body was in the workshop. “Our workshop?” Mrs Webster asked. “Yes,” he replied.

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