Belfast Telegraph

Murdered Flowerday's family vow to fight for law change to see 'life mean life' for killers

Alan Flowerday, whose brother Robert was murdered
Alan Flowerday, whose brother Robert was murdered
Robert Flowerday
Murderer Owens
Robert gardening at his home
Robert (back right) with members of his family
Robert with Alan’s granddaughter Eva on a previous Christmas
Relief: Members of Robert’s family comfort each other after Owens was sentenced last week

By Mary Magee

The family of a retired teacher murdered in a savage attack are to challenge the legal system in a bid to change the guidelines around sentencing.

Relatives of Robert Flowerday said they will do whatever they can to ensure his killer spends the rest of his life behind bars.

The body of the 64-year-old was found at his Co Antrim home in January 2018. He had been battered to death in what a judge described as a "vicious assault".

Michael Gerard Owens pleaded guilty to the murder and on Friday was jailed for a minimum of 16-and-a-half years.

Mr Flowerday's brother Alan, a retired property developer from Hillsborough, said Owens should spend the rest of his natural life in prison.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, he tells how his brother was a kind, thoughtful, caring individual with a great sense of humour.

He also speaks of the viciousness of the attack, saying: "Owens could have spent hours killing Robert. He seemed to have so much hatred for Robert."

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Mr Flowerday was killed in a frenzied attack at his home on Mill Road, Crumlin, on January 28, 2018.

A claw hammer, poker and hatchet were just a few of the items used in the savage murder.

Mr Flowerday's skull was shattered five times and his jaw and nose were also broken. He had 18 lacerations to his scalp, face and neck, and 20 bruises on his hands, arms, legs and torso.

Owens (35), of Lisburn Road, Glenavy, had earlier told a friend who he had arranged to meet in the car park in Crumlin Glen that he was going to do "a job" and tried to talk his friend into coming with him - but he refused.

Owens then put a Winemark plastic bag over his head as a makeshift balaclava and marched across the field to Mr Flowerday's house.

The friend said he later rang Owens and heard someone sobbing in the background.

Alan recalled seeing his brother on Boxing Day, just weeks before the murder. He was in great form playing on the floor with Alan's grandchildren Eva and Ryan.

On January 29 last year Alan received a call from a friend from Crumlin to say they had seen police tape across the gate at his brother's house.

He made calls to the rest of the family, as he and his wife drove to Crumlin, to determine if siblings Fred, Pat or Edward knew anything. No one had any information.

When Alan and his wife Heather arrived at Glenside they were met with the shocking news from a police officer, who told them: "This is a crime scene, you cannot enter and all I can tell you is that Mr Flowerday is deceased."

That, though, was only the beginning of the nightmare. Alan and his family were left with many unanswered questions and only snippets of information as the days passed.

It was 10 days before they were allowed into the 200-year-old house where the murder took place and were met with a scene that resembled a horror film.

"We were told even the police said they had never seen anything quite like it," Alan added.

"There was blood splattered and smeared all over the walls in the hall and kitchen."

Mr Flowerday would go down to the Glen and cut up fallen trees to give as firewood to the needy, but leave the tools like a hatchet, axe and claw hammer in the conservatory. Owens used these to kill him.

Alan described his brother as unique and highly intelligent.

"He was a teacher at Antrim Grammar for 15 years, and laterally was not particularly happy teaching in a school situation," he added.

"He felt frustrated with school life and found greater satisfaction tutoring on a one-to-one basis. It was a big step for him to leave teaching at the school and tutor because he did not deal well with change.

"He lived in the family home all his life; he rarely changed his car. He never enjoyed change. Some thought him odd but those who knew him saw him as the kind, thoughtful, caring individual he was.

"He did not like squandering money but he would have given more away. He liked to give away fruit and flowers from his garden. Money to him was to be saved, and most certainly not spent foolishly on himself.

"I suppose we all kind of made fun of him a little. He himself had a great sense of humour."

Mr Flowerday had a wonderful ability to mimic accents and people, his brother recalled. He would often mimic Alan's wife, and did a great impersonation of TV detective Colombo.

Owens broke into Mr Flowerday's house just weeks before the murder and stole £100.

"We were totally unaware of that," added Alan. "He told the police that £100 was stolen but who knows.

"I knew later that Robert lodged quite a lot of money in the bank after that break-in.

"I don't believe Robert was in the house when it was robbed before but Owens felt there was more money there when he saw all the filing cabinets."

Mr Flowerday had amassed an enormous amount of tutoring material over the years and it was all methodically filed.

Robert added: "We heard that Owens supposedly had a list of vulnerable people living on their own and he would target them and rob them in their homes."

Alan said that Owens had only apologised for his actions through his legal team 20 months after the crime, but the family believe that he is not remorseful.

"We have never been given any real apologies by Owens so I feel he was never sorry for what he did, not truly," he said.

Alan said that his brother was killed in such an appalling way simply over a supposed drugs debt and Owens needed money.

"There was no excuse for the brutality of Robert's murder," he said. "Owens could have spent hours killing Robert. He seemed to have so much hatred for Robert.

"The viciousness of the attack looked as if he really despised him. Maybe Robert was such an easy touch.

"Robert, though tall and lean, was a strong man. He must have fought hard for his life, but with the severe head wounds he sustained he had no chance.

"The sheer brutality in which he was killed is just awful.

"Robert had been taken by surprise and had been clubbed over the head first to stun him.

"There was blood right from the back door through the hall and all around the kitchen. There was blood on the wall where he had slid down.

"Every kitchen cabinet door was pulled off. There was blood everywhere. It was like the scene from a horror movie. Owens eventually dragged the body into the dining room, dumped him into an armchair and threw a duvet and cushion over him. It looked as though it was a massive struggle. As far as we know Owens came to the door, he did not break in.

"Robert had an alarm buzzer at the door so he would have known the door had been opened.

"His skull was fractured in five places and due to the force of the blows his head was almost severed."

Mr Flowerday lived in his family home alone and was quite a character around the town. Many would see him cycling around in a reflector jacket.

It was after younger brother David, who lived alone, had died from a massive heart attack and lay for some days before he was found that the family wanted to make sure the other siblings Pat, Edward and Fred all stayed safe.

"Robert did not like to use his mobile phone and he often got quite cross over the issue of mobile phones," explained Alan.

"We always wanted to make sure that everyone stayed safe and if anything happened we could be contacted quickly."

Sentencing Owens on Friday, a judge remarked on the "prolonged and repeated violent assaults on a defenceless man in his own home". Alan said the family is unhappy with the sentence. He added: "I feel the whole system is wrong. Life should mean life. To think that Owens could be out in 16 years... that would make him 50 years old.

"If he took a life then he should remain in prison for life. It is the legal system that we want to challenge. We know the judge's hands are tied.

"No one is saying that Owens would be let out in 16 years but he could be let out. Owens robbed Robert of his life.

"It is a disgrace such a sentence was handed down. The law is not there to protect the victims."

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors, such as intent and excessive violence.

However, Alan was deeply critical of the system.

He added: "I know the judge's hands are tied but there is something wrong that this man killed my brother in the brutal way in which he did only to be let out after 16 years.

"I know the judge considered this for some weeks so I know that it was not his fault. It is not justice. How can anyone call this justice? So many people are not being looked after by the legal system. We know that residents in Crumlin were living in fear of Owens. He had broken into houses before and stolen money.

"We heard that he had a list of names of vulnerable people that he would rob in their homes. He picked on the vulnerable and Robert was vulnerable."

Alan's wife Heather described Owens as a "moron" and a "monster". "The viciousness in which he killed Robert - it is only right that he should get life," she said.

"Robert would not have given up easily and the scene of his house showed that. He was such a good, kind person, and it is in sharp contrast how he died."

Alan said that Owens took the very clothes his brother wore and dumped them in the river. They were never found.

He added: "Owens stripped Robert and all he had on was his sock and underpants. He killed Robert and then goes and gets himself a Chinese. This is obscene.

"The attack was only stopped when the parents of a child he was to tutor called at Robert's.

"It was so much out of character for Robert not to arrive on time for his tutoring session that they were concerned and after many unanswered phone calls they decided to act.

"They did not even know where Robert lived and they asked about Crumlin.

"They saw someone inside when they called to the door but Owens placed an axe at the door to lock it. They went to the door and Owens climbed out the dining room window."

Alan described Owens as cold and evil and said that he is grateful for everyone who came forward with information.

"We have not mourned Robert's death. It's only now we can mourn," he said.

Heather added: "It is so sad the fact there was no harm in Robert. It is just a crazy, crazy world that something can happen to someone like Robert. All Robert ever wanted to do was to help people."

Alan added: "This is just a waste of a life and it should not have been allowed to happen. We will try to get over this the best we can and do what we can to get justice for Robert."

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