The eight men and four women of the jury in the Coole cold case murder trial were sent home yesterday (June 24 ) to conclude their first week’s involvement in the expected three-week trial of Vera McGrath (61 ) and her former son-in-law, Colin Pinder (47 ), for the murder of her husband over 23 years ago.
They were sent home to allow legal arguments be conducted in their absence and before leaving Mr Justice John Edwards told them to avoid any printed or broadcast reports on the case, including old reports.
“This is... a cold case so please don’t Google it,” he warned.
McGrath has pleaded not guilty to murdering her then 43-year-old husband, Bernard Brian McGrath, at their home in Lower Coole, Co Westmeath on a date unknown between March 10 and April 18, 1987. Pinder, of Liverpool, England pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter; however, this plea was not accepted by the court.
The trial hinges on the testimony of McGrath’s daughter and Pinder’s former wife, Veronica, who has told the court she witnessed the two accused beat her father to death 23 years ago, bury him in their back garden, and that they later dug up the father-of-four, burned his body over a number of days, smashed up the charred bones, and reburied them.
After searches were carried out, Mr McGrath’s remains were buried in Whitehall cemetery, between Castlepollard and Mullingar, in June 1998. They consisted of a half bucket of human bones.
Denis Vaughan Buckley SC, prosecuting, told the jury that the original investigation into the alleged murder was in 1993 when two gardaí went to Yorkshire to interview Mr Pinder and that there was a review of the cold case in 2007.
He explained why the date of death wasn’t known exactly: A garda spoke to Mr McGrath on March 10, 1987 but he was dead and buried in a shallow grave by April 18, the wedding day of his daughter and Colin Pinder.
Veronica Pinder met Colin Pinder in England and came to Ireland to marry in 1987. Her mother borrowed a caravan for the couple to stay in beside their bungalow. However after rows between Mrs and Mr McGrath, the couple had the caravan towed to a neighbour’s.
The court heard that during a visit to the caravan: “Vera McGrath expressed a wish that her husband was dead and encouraged Colin Pinder to become involved”.
“There followed a sustained assault [at the family home] by both Vera McGrath and Colin Pinder”, during which Mr McGrath was beaten to death with a number of weapons including a slashhook.
Mrs McGrath and the young couple stayed at the house that night and the victim’s body was buried in the back garden. Veronica assisted in the cleaning of blood and mucus off the house, and when this proved difficult, her mother told her to put tar on it, the court heard.
Mrs McGrath went to England shortly afterwards with her three sons, Brian, Andrew, and Edward, while her daughter and Pinder remained in the house.
Andrew McGrath is expected to give evidence before the defence offers its case. The jury returns on Monday.