Belfast Telegraph

Retired schoolteacher Robert Flowerday victim of 'prolonged and savage' attack, court told

Robert Flowerday
Robert Flowerday

By Ashleigh McDonald

A retired schoolteacher murdered in his Co Antrim home was subjected to a prolonged and savage attack with a poker, axe and claw hammer, a court has heard.

The body of Robert Flowerday was found at his home near Crumlin in January 2018.

Michael Gerard Owens has already admitted murdering the 64-year-old, described as “an exemplary human being” who made a “lifelong contribution to society,” and has been handed a life sentence.

Yesterday Owens (35) was back at Belfast Crown Court for a sentencing hearing, where details surrounding the murder emerged for the first time.

Mr Justice Colton said Owens, from Lisburn Road in Glenavy, will be told next month how long he will have to spend in prison before he is considered eligible for release.

The court heard that after breaking into the victim’s Mill Road home in Crumlin on January 27 last year, Owens attacked the pensioner with an array of weapons.

It was also revealed that Owens — who used a plastic bag as a makeshift balaclava — received a call during the fatal incident.

The caller could hear sobbing in the background and was told by Owens to “F*** off, I’m doing a job. Leave me alone.”

Prosecuting barrister David McDowell QC said Mr Flowerday sustained a multitude of significant wounds during the attack — including 18 separate lacerations to his scalp, face and neck.

His jaw and nose were broken, his skull was fractured in five different places, and the extensive wounds to his hands, wrists and arms suggested he tried to defend himself.

Michael Owens. Credit: Pacemaker Belfast
Michael Owens. Credit: Pacemaker Belfast

Providing Mr Justice Colton with background information, Mr McDowell said that since he retired, Mr Flowerday worked on a casual basis as a part-time tutor.

At around 9.20pm on the evening of January 28 last year, the parents of a student he was due to be tutoring called police to express their concerns as he failed to turn up for a tutoring session.

Due to this out of character behaviour, the parents went to Mr Flowerday’s home, where they saw an unknown male in the property.

They knocked the door, no-one answered, and when police arrived at 9.50pm, they discovered Mr Flowerday’s partially clothed body sitting in an armchair covered by a duvet and cushions.

Mr McDowell said: “There was cement dust to the left side of his head and ear, suggesting that his body had been moved into that position.”

Also found at the blood-splattered scene were an axe, poker and claw-hammer, and a subsequent post-mortem examination concluded Mr Flowerday had been subjected to a ‘sustained assault that was concentrated to his head and neck’ which resulted in fatal brain injuries.

The post-mortem examination also stated ‘the majority of the lacerations to the scalp had a linear profile, indicating multiple forceful blows with a weapon ... such as an axe or hatchet.’

Mr McDowell said that the day after the murder, police were approached by a local man, who told them he had met with Owens the afternoon before in Crumlin Glen car park.

This man told police Owens appeared drunk, that he told him to was going to Mr Flowerday’s house to burgle it and asked him to come.

The man said he refused the offer, then watched Owens drink a bottle of rose wine before placing a plastic bag over his head as a makeshift balaclava and walking off in the direction of Mr Flowerday’s home.

When he rang him around 6pm, he heard sobbing in the background and Owens told him to “f*** off.”

Owens was next seen in Crumlin at 10.45pm that night. He bought a Chinese and got a lift home with a man who noted Owen appeared dirty and had a cut to his hand.

The two men saw a helicopter, and when Owens was jokingly asked if it was for him, Owens replied “not this time but would you put it past me.”

Owens also told the motorist: “I’m just going to the river to dump these clothes” and got out of the car.

Revealing the clothes Owen wore during the murder “have never been found”, Mr McDowell said Owens had a further conversation with the man he met in the car park earlier that day.

When the man asked Owens what had happened at Mr Flowerday’s house, Owens told him: “I think I’ve done the c***, I think I killed him. I used a hatchet”.

Owens also told the other man he had intended to set fire to Mr Flowerday’s home, but he had been disturbed.

He was arrested the following day and answered “no comment” to all the questions put to him. Despite his refusal to co-operate, his DNA was found on a plastic bag at the murder scene and also under Mr Flowerday’s fingernails.

Closing the Crown’s case, Mr McDowell spoke of “gratuitous violence”, noted the multiple blood-stained weapons used and said the attack was “entirely unprovoked.”

Also noted was the impact Mr Flowerday’s death has had on his family and friends as well as the “outpouring of outrage and support” for the ex-teacher on social media by his former students.

Defence barrister John McCrudden QC spoke of the regard with which Mr Flowerday was held in the community, and said: “He was a good man, he was a decent man. He made a lifelong contribution to society, to the local community and the local church.

“He was an exemplary human being and the loss of Mr Flowerday is all the greater for that.”

Mr McCrudden said Owen had acknowledged his actions, and that he committed an “unspeakable, atrocious attack on this decent, innocent, well-intentioned man on the sanctity of his own home”.

Turning to his client, the defence barrister said Owens was a man with mental health issues who at the time of the murder was abusing alcohol and cocaine.

The barrister also revealed Owens’ mental health worsened following a traumatic incident within his family.

He added that in a pre-sentence report, Owens gave an “unprecedented account” of what occurred which showed both the “magnitude of the crime” and his “expressions of remorse and shame.”

After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, Mr Justice Colton said he needed time to reflect on the case, and said he would hand Owens a tariff term on December 20.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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