herald

Monday 23 October 2017

What really happened to Rebecca French

IT is a question that is doomed to remain unanswered. Next month, four men will face sentencing for their role in impeding an investigation by disposing of and attempting to destroy the body of Rebecca French.

Yet the convictions will do nothing to shed light on the tragic final hours of the 30-year-old Wexford woman.

For the family of the young victim, there is still no explanation of the circumstances surrounding her horrific death.

On the morning of her death, Rebecca was spotted out shopping and chatting with a pal. It's believed that later on, she attended a party.

But how the vibrant young mother came to lie dead in a car boot remains a mystery.

Gardai have confirmed that they are not seeking anyone in connection with the death, so nobody will be charged with the woman's murder.

Instead, her family can only speculate on the series of events that led to her death. It is believed that she had spent the previous evening partying in the house of a man named Patrick O'Connor, but the question remains -- how did she spiral from a house party to a devastating demise?

It was a sunny afternoon on October 9 last year when gardai were alerted to a burning car at Codd's Lane, a few kilometres outside Wexford town.

They initially assumed it was a straightforward case of vandalism. As they arrived to check it out they saw four men walking away from the scene.

But as they attempted to quench the flames, they made a shocking discovery.

In the boot of the burning car was a body. It would later emerge that it was the body of 30-year-old mum-of-two Rebecca French.

State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy would later testify that it wasn't the fire that killed the young mother.

Rebecca had suffered blunt force trauma to her head, with three blows fracturing her skull. There were also four lacerations to the back of her head. While these injuries were sufficient to kill her, it's possible she was still alive when she was bundled into the boot of her own car.

A plastic bag had been tied over her head, and her hands had been bound with cable ties.

The body had been severely burned but Dr Cassidy could still see defensive-type injuries to her arms and shoulders, and broken ribs consistent with stamping and kicking.

The litany of injuries visited upon her body was certainly a world away from the image of a healthy Rebecca who was spotted by a number of people on the morning of her death.

Local woman Louise Fowler spotted Rebecca driving her blue Opel Corsa.

It was hard to ignore her, given that Rebecca's car had swerved across the road and almost hit her.

At around 10am that morning, she visited an Aldi store and bought some breakfast items. While paying for the goods she chatted with her friend Jacqui O'Hanlon, who was working at the check-out.



PRohibited

Curiously, Rebecca was accompanied by a woman with two black eyes. She had a bottle of rum in a plastic bag on her wrist and Jacqui spotted it.

Rebecca returned to the counter to pay for the bottle, but as it was early on a Sunday the sale of alcohol was prohibited.

Minutes earlier, the two women had walked into the New Line shop, where Rebecca had purchased cigarettes. Shop assistant Sarah Hall couldn't help noticing that Rebecca "looked like she was in her own world" and "was definitely on something".

It was a mere six hours later that her body was discovered in her car.

Gardai had made their way to Patrick O'Connor's house in Ard na Dara, where they arrested him and three other men, Ricardas Dilys, Ruslanas Mineikas and Piotr Pasiak.

Dilys and Mineikas were later charged with murder, but these charges were this week dropped following a two-week trial.

In Patrick O'Connor's house, a major investigation got under way. Two golf clubs were seized, both of which had traces of Rebecca's blood on them. Bloodstained clothes and jewellery were also found.

An examination of stool legs also revealed tiny patches of Rebecca's blood. By the time gardai had arrived at the house, one of the chair covers had been removed from the furniture and was in the washing machine.

At the start of the trial, the prosecution had contended that Ricardas Dilys had used a golf club to inflict three fractures to Rebecca's skull. It was also contended that Ruslanas Mineikas stamped on her and kicked her. Both men pleaded not guilty to murder and the charges were dropped this week when the prosecution entered a nolle prosequi.

It was believed Rebecca had been at a party at Patrick O'Connor's house.

Photographs shown to the jury certainly suggested that some entertainment had taken place, as the table in the open-plan living area was littered with glasses and empty cans. A neighbour later testified that there were always "a lot of cars coming and going" from the house.



Sightings

On the morning of October 9, he noticed a blue Opel Corsa driven by a woman leaving the property. The same car returned half an hour later, and this appeared to tally with the sightings of Rebecca in shops that morning.

But what happened next that resulted in a vibrant young mother being bundled into the boot of her own car? What situation unfolded that led to her suffering severe injuries to her head? How did her blood come to be on stools and golf clubs in Patrick O'Connor's house? With nobody now facing a charge of murder, there is nobody to answer these questions.

Instead, Rebecca French's distraught family will return to court next month to see four men sentenced for their role in disposing of and attempting to destroy the woman's body.

It will be of little comfort to a family still seeking to find out how their daughter met her death.

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