Friday, 10 Jul 2020

Widow's evidence was crucial in a trial that hinged on perception

“Is she here?” the woman said, her eyes devouring the courtroom as she wedged herself into a row of spectators. There was no need to ask who she was talking about. Such was the interest in Mary Lowry.

Pat Quirke was on trial for murder. But in the regressive soap opera playing out in Court 13, it was the mistress who captivated the prurient attention of the public. That was in no small part down to Quirke.

There was no indisputable forensic evidence against him, just an accumulation of circumstantial evidence, and much of it concerned her. Her evidence provided motive in ending their affair, and pointed to his controlling nature, his grasping greed for her money and disturbing accounts of his snooping.

Undermine her evidence, destroy her credibility, and Quirke would have a greater chance of walking free. She became the embodiment of doubt in a trial that hinged on perception.

Quirke’s defence team filleted Mary Lowry’s evidence. They did so to test its accuracy and reliability. She did not always pass the defence’s consistency tests. But Bernard Condon’s piercing cross-examination had the added benefit for Quirke of making her look bad.

Her affair was scrutinised, her motives questioned, her petty private rows with Bobby Ryan dissected, the intimate details of her personal life shaken out for the public’s delectation. She was depicted as self-serving, a woman who “revised history” about the affair and spread poison about her former lover. It was suggested to her that she was bitter at the break-down of a relationship – even though it was she who ended it.

“I’m not on trial, Pat Quirke is,” Mary Lowry said at one point. Yet unfounded suspicion hung over her.

A garda’s evidence about collecting suspected blood samples at Fawnagowan generated dramatic headlines that traces of blood were found on Mary Lowry’s walls. The next court day, an expert testified that further analysis showed the samples were not blood.

Pointing the finger at his former lover seemed to be Quirke’s strategy from the start. On the very day he “discovered” Bobby Ryan’s body, he was telling gardai about her “strange” and “intriguing” behaviour, dropping unsubtle hints that she had questions to answer.

She acknowledged during her evidence that people had been trying to say she had something to do with Bobby Ryan’s disappearance.

Garda sources said she was ruled out as a suspect in their investigation, for a myriad of reasons, not least her openness. She provided numerous statements about her personal life, handed over her phones and laptops and consented to her children being interviewed.

Outside the courtroom, it was open season on her. An acquaintance of hers recalled how, in a bar in Tipperary one evening, all conversation stopped as the trial featured on the television news. “That’s what you get,” a man piped up, referring to Mary Lowry. “Men are funny,” she said. “She is blamed as the troublemaker and how could she do that to her children… She has done stupid things, as we all have, but what a price to pay. Her family is devastated.”

Michael Bowman, for the prosecution, highlighted to powerful effect how perceptions can mislead. In his closing speech, he recalled the suggestion that Bobby Ryan’s phone was “hopping” with texts from Mary Lowry. Yet there were two text messages on the night before he disappeared, said Bowman, one from Mary to Bobby and his reply.

He recalled Robert Ryan Jnr’s reaction when he called to Mary Lowry’s house searching for his missing dad, and noticed she was shaking and looking like she’d been in a car accident. She’d asked him to “search the rivers and lakes”.

“He never said anything to me about a f***ing river,” Robert had retorted angrily. He didn’t know that his father had confided in Mary about dark days he had experienced after his marital break-up, said Bowman. That was why she mentioned searching rivers.

“Perception, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr Bowman said.

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