Murder victim was ‘in Jamaica eating a Big Mac’, accused told gardaí

Stephen Penrose (38) has pleaded not guilty to murdering Philip Finnegan (24)

Murder accused Stephen Penrose told gardaí that he heard his missing friend, whose body was later found in a shallow grave, was "sitting in Jamaica eating a Big Mac," a jury has heard.

The accused also told gardaí that he heard the victim had been “chopped up” in the Dublin mountains.

In later interviews, the defendant insisted that he would not be going on trial for “any Finnegans”. “Put me in custody. I’ll be swinging on a rope. I don’t know anything,” he said.

Mr Penrose (38), of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Philip Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare, on August 10th, 2016.

The trial has heard that Mr Finnegan went missing before his decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods. The accused man, who was representing himself in the trial, has hired new lawyers but has declined to continue attending his trial.

Now-retired garda Mick O’Brien told prosecution counsel Brendan Grehan SC that he was involved in the investigation of Mr Finnegan, who was reported missing at Kevin Street Garda station on August 11th, 2016. The witness said he arrested Mr Penrose at an apartment in Malahide on August 31st for withholding information in relation to a serious assault on Mr Finnegan.

In his first of 10 interviews with gardaí on August 31st at Kilmainham Garda station, Mr Penrose began by saying that he knew nothing about what happened to his friend Mr Finnegan. "I want nothing more than for his mother to know I had nothing to do with what happened," he said.

The accused told detectives that Mr Finnegan informed him that he had previously got hit with a lump hammer and certain individuals had broken into his house and pepper sprayed his mother, Angela Finnegan.

The accused said that Mr Finnegan was with him all day on August 10th and was wearing a white bulletproof vest. Mr Penrose went on to say there were “rumours all over the place saying I murdered him”.

Referring to Mr Finnegan’s mother, the accused continued: “She is saying I abducted him, she knows I’ve f*** all to do with it. I’d like to see it cleared up for her.”

Describing an alleged incident in Kilcock on August 10th to gardaí, Mr Penrose said he had taken the turn off for Kilcock and "they were just right there, pulled in on the right". He said Mr Finnegan ran over to the other car to meet someone. "Then a fella walked over towards me, I can't remember if I opened my door. The minute he came over he swung a knife towards me. I think I went to block it. I just drove, as I was driving I saw two people scuffling with Phillip. I just kept driving. I pulled into a petrol station to get petrol and my arm just started pulsing blood."

Second interview

The accused told gardaí in his second interview that he had post-traumatic stress and could not remember anything else. “I was stabbed in the arm, it hit an artery, I panicked. I’ve told the truth, it was a hectic few days . . . I got stabbed and the whole day is a blur,” he said.

At one stage, Mr Penrose said he had “had enough” of questioning and would be found “swinging from a rope”.

When asked by detectives about the fight, Mr Penrose said he had heard that Mr Finnegan was “chopped up” in the Dublin mountains. “I didn’t go near Phillip, I didn’t touch Phillip,” he added.

Gardaí put it to the accused that he was the last person to see Mr Finnegan being attacked but was telling them that he heard that the deceased was chopped up in the Dublin mountains. “I’ve heard bulls***, I’ve heard 10 different things. I don’t know if they are true. Some people say black, some say white, I don’t f***ing know. I heard all sorts of things, people on James Street are saying it is me. I heard he is sitting in Jamaica eating a Big Mac,” he replied.

The accused went on to tell gardaí that he did not know where Mr Finnegan was, that there were “cameras everywhere” and he had already accounted for where he was.

When asked what he felt had happened to Mr Finnegan, Mr Penrose said: “I don’t know. I knew he was involved with feuds. I looked for a split second and saw two people scuffling with him then someone came over and stabbed me. I saw someone with a bat or an arm.”

In his third interview, the accused said that Mr Finnegan had done more to help him than anyone else and he was intending to “set him up with a few jobs”. “I didn’t think he was under threat, I thought it was a load of rubbish,” he added.

When asked by gardaí if he felt responsible for what had happened to Mr Finnegan, he replied: “Yes a bit, look I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Detectives asked the accused if he had ever pointed out the scene where Mr Finnegan had been “ambushed” to gardaí. “I told them where it was. I told them to go off down the motorway and take the slipway for Kilcock, there was a car pulled in there,” he replied.

When asked if he was tempted to call gardaí that day, the accused said that Mr Finnegan was not his priority, that he was in a panic and did not want to co-operate with police. “I thought he [Philip] might have just got a beating, it was in the middle of the road, a busy one, I got stabbed,” he continued.

In the fourth interview, Mr Penrose insisted that he did not know anything. “I won’t be going on trial for any Finnegans. Put me in custody. I’ll be swinging on a rope. I don’t know anything,” he said.

Fifth interview

At the beginning of the fifth interview, gardaí asked the accused if he could tell them the truth about where he had last seen Mr Finnegan on August 10th. "The last place I seen him was up in my old house in Broadford [Co Kildare], we had arranged to meet people to collect a gun off him. He arranged to meet some of his old friends at my house. He was going to meet some of them there to get a shotgun, he was involved in a few feuds, fighting with them," he said.

Mr Grehan put it to Garda Laura O'Brien, who had conducted the interview with the accused, that this was the first mention by Mr Penrose of a different location to Kilcock. "That's correct," she replied.

Mr Penrose told officers that he had met the “lads” on a laneway that led up to the house and a black car had pulled up behind them. Mr Finnegan got out of the car, “trotted” down to them and three people got out of the other car, he explained.

“The fella at my car door stabbed me once into my arm. I saw the fella that stabbed me through my window run down to the other two who had a hold of Philip. Philip didn’t willingly get into the car, he was pushed and bundled into the car, they got on top of him,” he continued.

When gardaí asked the accused if anyone had asked him to set Mr Finnegan up, he replied: “No and if they did, I wouldn’t have as he was my friend.”

He said he had tried to ring Mr Finnegan two or three times when he was in hospital but his phone was off.

“It just looks worser and worser cause its at my own house, that’s why I didn’t say it at the start,” he continued.

When asked why he had changed his shoes, Mr Penrose said he did not know why. “Maybe they were uncomfortable, maybe they were hurting me,” he said. He said he could not remember if he had thrown away his shoes before or after Mr Finnegan was taken.

Gardaí put it to him that he had given two different versions of events and neither was true. Mr Penrose denied he was telling lies to gardaí, he said he could not remember where the alleged incident had happened and that he was afraid for his life. “I hope you find him. I’ve nothing to do with this,” he said.

“First Kilcock, then Broadford and now you are refusing to remember,” asked gardaí. “It is all a blur,” he replied.

The trial continues on Monday before Mr Justice Alexander Owens and the 12 jurors.