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Crucifix used in murder of Newry pensioner Maire Rankin, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A crucifix may have been used to inflict injuries on a pensioner found murdered in her Co Down home, the High Court has heard.









Prosecutors disclosed the DNA link as a pharmacist accused of killing 81-year-old Maire Rankin was refused permission to move on bail to her native Dublin.

A judge denied Karen Walsh's request after hearing she allegedly made inquiries about undergoing radical cosmetic surgery and obtaining a forged passport.

Lawyers for the 43-year-old mounted the application on the basis that she was now a “broken woman” living alone apart from her young son.

Walsh was charged with murder after Mrs Rankin's naked body was discovered on the bedroom floor of her home on the Dublin Road, Newry, on Christmas Day 2008.

Preliminary findings show she sustained head injuries and fractured ribs. There was also evidence of a sexual assault, the court was told.

Tessa Kitson, prosecuting, said swab tests established DNA from both the victim and Walsh — her neighbour — on the base of a broken crucifix close to the body.

The barrister said: “The Crown of Thorns on the figure on the cross, an expert has said that an abrasion or injuries to Mrs Rankin's chin would be consistent with it having been caused with that part of the crucifix.”

Further DNA from the accused was allegedly found on the victim's breasts, inner thighs and arm.

Walsh, it was claimed, has an alcohol dependency problem and drank a bottle of Smirnoff vodka she brought to Mrs Rankin's home to celebrate Christmas.

She was originally granted bail to stay in Dublin, but later ordered to relocate to Belfast and surrender her passport after information was received about alleged plans to flee.

According to Mrs Kitson, gardai were told she had been making inquiries at a specialist clinic.

“The doctor didn't say simple cosmetic surgery, but quite radical surgery to alter her appearance,” she claimed.

It was also alleged that Walsh approached another inmate while in custody about obtaining a forged passport.

“Police learned that she told another prisoner that if things looked bad for her she would leg it,” Mrs Kitson added.

Kieran Vaughan, defending, stressed both the plastic surgery and passport claims were vigorously denied.

He told the court Walsh only asked about botox treatment, which could not transform her facial features.

Before she was charged the accused, the wife of Dublin-based accountant Richard Durkin, ran her own successful pharmacy. But Mr Vaughan said her status has now changed dramatically.

“I'm avoiding hyperbole, but she is now a broken woman,” he said.

The barrister outlined how Walsh is unemployed, knows no-one in Belfast, and lives with just her three-year-old son.

Her husband's work commitments mean he can only come to see her once a week, the judge was told.

It was also claimed the family now face financial hardship, and possibly ruin, from having to maintain properties in Dublin, Belfast and Newry.

Mr Vaughan also hit out at the continued delay in obtaining a post-mortem report which, he contended, meant the precise cause of death was still unknown.

He said only DNA evidence connects Walsh, arguing this was unsurprising given her visits to the neighbouring victim's home.

The barrister added that it amounted to a form of Low Copy Number DNA brought into question following an acquittal in the Omagh bomb murder trial.

“That is the only evidence that connects the applicant to any crime, if in fact there was a crime committed by her or anybody,” he said.

But refusing the bail variation application, Lord Justice Girvan based his decision on the lack of structures for enforcement in the Republic of bail conditions set in Northern Ireland.

He added: “In some respects she was fortunate to have been granted renewed bail.”

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