04 Dec 2021

Father of accused in Kildare murder trial tells court that victim was "very nice fella"

The father of Stephen Penrose, who is accused of murdering a man whose decapitated body was found in a Kildare woods, has told a jury that the deceased was a "very nice fella" and "very friendly".

Paul Penrose also told his son's murder trial that Stephen and his friend Phillip Finnegan had been chatting away in his car "as if they knew each other all their lives", just two days before Mr Finnegan was killed.

Stephen Penrose (38), of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not  guilty to murdering Mr Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10, 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.

Mr Penrose told Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that he dropped his son Stephen to Liffey Valley Shopping Centre at 1pm on August 8 as he [Stephen] wanted to find a phone shop. When Stephen returned to the car, he had two phones with him, which were charged up and not in their packets.

Mr Penrose then drove his son to meet a friend in Portarlington but Stephen did not know exactly where "the chap" lived. The friend drove by in a 2002 blue Alfa Romeo car, Mr Penrose said, and Stephen and him chatted on the side of the road. 

"Stephen asked me would I have €500 to buy a car. I didn't have that but I had €300," he said. 

Stephen bought the car and Mr Penrose and his son then drove back in convoy to the Kylemore Road in Dublin. 

Stephen's father also told the jury that he was aware that his son had a friend called Phillip Finnegan. Stephen left the Alfa Romeo car at McDonald's on the Kylemore Road that evening and Mr Penrose drove his son to meet Mr Finnegan at James Street in the south inner city. 

Mr Penrose described seeing his son and Mr Finnegan embrace one another "in a big hug" at the front door. Stephen went into Phillip's house for around 30 minutes before they both came out and got into Mr Penrose's car at 7pm. The accused got into the front of the car and Philip was in the back, the court heard. 

"Philip was a very nice fella, very friendly, they were chatting away as if they knew each other all their lives," said Mr Penrose. 

The witness said he then drove the pair to McDonald's on the Kylemore Road and they jumped out of the car. 

The following day, Mr Penrose said he got a call from his son Stephen and he sounded a little bit distressed. "He said lads were taking alcohol and drugs so I said I'd drive over to him to be a bit of comfort," he recalled. Mr Penrose said he waited an hour for his son near a flat in Tallaght but eventually Stephen rang him to tell him to go home. 

On August 10, Mr Penrose said he got a call from a paramedic to say that Stephen had been stabbed, that he had lost a lot of blood and needed clothing. Mr Penrose went to Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and bought Stephen clothing and shoes. The witness went into Connolly Hospital that night and his son, whose arm was in a sling, told him that he was attacked. "He said a couple of fellas jumped on him and he was stabbed," he added.

The next day, the accused rang his father and told him he wanted to move his car from Kilcock, where he had abandoned it the previous day, as he was afraid it was going to be towed away. The witness agreed with Mr Grehan that his son should not have left the hospital but said Stephen would have jumped into a taxi otherwise. "I would have had a taxi bill so I said I'd do it," he added.

Mr Penrose said there were blood marks "all over" the car door and his son began wiping the blood with a tissue and some water. "I took it that it was his own blood. He was only wiping the blood from outside and not inside," he said. 

Stephen parked his car in another location before Mr Penrose drove his son back to Connolly Hospital. 

Mr Penrose said Stephen rang him on August 12 to tell him that gardai had been to see him in hospital. Mr Penrose drove his son to Athy to see a friend and on the way they checked on his car in Kilcock. "He didn't want to draw suspicion or attention to the car, that's why he wanted to clean it as there was blood on the outside," said the witness.

Mr Penrose brought his son to a hardware store to buy materials to clean the blood from the outside of the car but said Stephen did not go near the car when he saw gardai beside it. "I got some impression he didn't want to go near the car, he told me to keep on driving and head for Athy," he said.

Stephen was "on the phone constantly" on the journey, he said, but they didn't go to Athy in the end as "the fella" was not available to meet. 

Mr Penrose said gardai later called to his house as they had concerns about a missing person but did not disclose who that was. "I then saw a press release on the news and saw it was Phillip Finnegan. I was shocked, the fella in the back seat," he said.

When Stephen rang him, Mr Penrose said he told his son about seeing the press release about Mr Finnegan. Reading from the statement he made to gardai, Mr Penrose said: "This morning Stephen rang me on a different number. He could tell I wasn't in good form, he asked me was I ok. I told him I saw the press release about Phillip on the news. He said what was that about. I told him he was missing since Wednesday. Stephen told me that Phillip was with him on Wednesday and that he was texting/ringing a fella to meet him on Wednesday. They met some fella he didn't say where. He said that Phillip was sort of arguing with this guy on the phone when they met him. Phillip got out of the car and that one of them came over to him and stabbed him in the arm. Stephen said he just drove off and left Phillip there."

Earlier, Seamus Sheeran told Mr Grehan that he was working as a sales assistant at Topline Cleary's hardware store in Kilcock on August 13, 2016, when he was approached by a customer with his arm in a sling and wearing a hospital gown tucked into his trousers. "He asked me to recommend a product to remove blood-staining from the inside of his car as he had been in an accident," he said. The witness said the customer also told him that he had tried to clean the car with wipes but that did not work.

Mr Sheeran recommended 'Jeyes Fluid' to the man but warned him that it would leave a strong and pungent smell. The man bought a litre of 'Jeyes Fluid' and a packet of duster cloths.

The trial continues on Wednesday before Mr Justice Alexander Owens and the 12 jurors.
In his opening address, prosecuting barrister Mr Grehan said Mr Finnegan's decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods. Counsel said Mr Finnegan had "certain troubles in the past" and had taken to wearing a protective vest.

The lawyer also told the jury in his opening address that attempts had been made to cut up and burn the body of Mr Finnegan, who had been missing for almost a month and who had met a "gruesome death".

Significantly, the barrister said, the jury will hear evidence that a bloodied glove was found in the woods which was a DNA match to the accused man Mr Penrose.

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