Belfast Telegraph

Farmer saved his killer twice: Murder-suicide victim father figure who stopped friend taking own life

By Chris Kilpatrick

A wealthy farmer shot dead by a worker in a murder-suicide had saved his killer's life on two previous occasions.

Arthur Gibson was shot in the chest in the kitchen of his dairy farm by Michael Murphy, who then turned the shotgun on himself.

Murphy's partner described Mr Gibson as a father-figure to her fiancé, and yesterday it was revealed how the 61-year-old had intervened twice to stop him taking his own life.

Jennifer Mulvenna was pregnant with the couple's fifth child when the double tragedy took place at Feystown Road, Glenarm, Co Antrim, last September. She wept as her statement to police in the aftermath of the shootings was read during an inquest into the deaths at Ballymena courthouse.

Mr Gibson's sister Elizabeth said her brother had driven Mr Murphy to Londonderry to check him into a medical unit for rehabilitation following a suicide attempt.

She said he once found Mr Murphy (37) sitting in a vehicle with a hose through the window close to the farmhouse in the heart of the Glens.

"Art and Michael were friends, it was much more than just employer and employee," Ms Gibson said. She told how Mr Murphy ran the farm when Mr Gibson suffered a heart attack in 2009.

Both women said they could not recount any times when the men had disputes.

Ms Mulvenna told how Mr Gibson would send sweets for her children every Sunday. "Both totally trusted each other," she said.

"Arthur was part of our family, of all our lives."

Mr Gibson's shotgun was found underneath the body of Mr Murphy. Forensic experts said it was evident Mr Murphy had shot his employer across the kitchen table.

He then placed the weapon in his mouth and killed himself.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson was told Mr Murphy had a history of drug abuse and mental health problems. He had suffered a drugs relapse in the months before the shootings, when he took cocaine.

Recording that Mr Murphy shot Mr Gibson with a single cartridge before shooting himself, Ms Anderson sympathised with everyone affected by what she described as a "tragic case".

BACKGROUND

Michael "Mickey" Murphy (37) blasted 61-year-old farmer Arthur Gibson with a shotgun at close range in the kitchen of the latter's farmhouse in the Glens of Antrim and then committed suicide.

During the inquest it emerged that Mr Gibson had twice saved his employee of 15 years from suicide bids.

They had bond like a father and son... only one beset by demons

Heavily pregnant at the time of the tragedy and mother to his four children, Michael Murphy's partner wept as she told how he adored the man he killed.

The couple had been together for two decades, with Mr Murphy working for Arthur Gibson for the majority of that time. So close was the bond between the men, she said her boyfriend would often work extra days for nothing to help him on the dairy farm.

It was a second home and Mr Gibson a father-figure to the loyal but troubled worker, the inquest was told.

"Art was like a father to Mickey," Jennifer Mulvenna said.

When Mr Murphy relapsed back into drug abuse months before the tragedy, it was Arthur he first confided in, she said. Ms Mulvenna said her partner struggled with paranoia and anxiety and had previously wrongly accused her of being unfaithful.

She said her fiance had threatened to kill himself in the past but had seemed in better spirits after several periods in rehabilitation to tackle his drug addictions and mental health issues.

Ms Mulvenna told how on the day of the shootings, her partner had called at their home at lunchtime.

She said he seemed in good spirits and kissed her before returning to work at the farm.

Both men's families sat just feet apart at the coroner's court in Ballymena yesterday morning. Twice, a lawyer for Mr Murphy's relatives offered condolences to Mr Gibson's family, including his sister who was present. Ms Gibson told how she and her husband visited her brother just hours before the murder and suicide.

"Mickey appeared to me to be his usual jovial, light-hearted self," she said. "Neither of us noticed anything unusual at all with either of them."

Shaun McRandle knew both men and lived in a property belonging to Mr Gibson.

He was the first to come upon the nightmarish scene in the kitchen of the farmhouse.

Having let himself in, he found both men's lifeless bodies and ran to a nearby property where Laurence McKenna was working. Mr McKenna told the inquest he had heard a muffled gunshot noise a short time earlier but was not alarmed as the land was often used for hunting.

Police officer Peter Duncan said he received a report of a shooting incident at the Feystown Road property at 5.15pm on September 13, arriving just over 20 minutes later.

Inside, the officer encountered the body of Mr Gibson which had a single gunshot wound to the chest. A couple of metres away, on the other side of the kitchen table, lay Mr Murphy who had a severe gunshot wound to his head.

A double-barrelled shotgun was underneath his body.

Mr Duncan told the inquest there were no signs of any struggle in the kitchen where the bodies lay or in any other area of the house. A gun cabinet had a key in the lock and was found to be empty.

Jonathan Greer, a firearms specialist with the Forensic Service of Northern Ireland, attended the crime scene.

He told the inquest Mr Gibson's injuries were consistent with being shot across the room by Mr Murphy.

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