Belfast Telegraph

Sentence is not justice for brutal murder of our brother, says family of Robert Flowerday

Family of retired schoolteacher Robert Flowerday
Family of retired schoolteacher Robert Flowerday
Robert Flowerday's sister Pat speaks to the media after Michael Gerard Owens was given a 16-and-a-half-year jail term for his brutal murder
Sandra Todd, who passed away in November, with her children Corey (10), Keegan (7) and Joni (5
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The family of a retired Co Antrim schoolteacher murdered in his home have said there was no sentence that could have been handed out that would be seen as justice.

Robert Flowerday was killed in a "brutal and senseless" attack at his home near Crumlin in January 2018.

Michael Gerard Owens was handed a minimum 16-and-a-half-year sentence at Laganside Courts in Belfast on Friday.

Owens (35), from Lisburn Road, Glenavy, had already pleaded guilty to murder.

Family members attended the sentencing and heard Mr Justice Colton detail the harrowing last moments of Robert's life.

The court heard of "prolonged and repeated violent assaults on a defenceless man in his own home".

Having initially denied the murder, Owens later confessed to the killing and said the motivation was burglary as he owed a significant amount of money due to his drugs and alcohol addictions.

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Afterwards, Mr Flowerday's brother Alan spoke at the devastating impact of losing the 64-year-old so violently.

"The family has been devastated by Robert's murder and our hearts ripped apart," he said.

"Today, after almost two years, we hear the judge committing this brutal murderer to a life in prison with a tariff of 16 years and six months. This is not justice for taking our brother's life so cruelly. Life should mean life."

Killer Michael Owens appears at Ballymena Court
Killer Michael Owens appears at Ballymena Court

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.

But Mr Flowerday added: "Here we are the victims of our brother's murder, suffering the loss, feeling the agony, the torture to which Robert was subjected to and then as taxpayers footing the bill for his legal aid and his accommodation in Maghaberry.

"Not only have we lost a brother, but the community of Crumlin have lost someone they loved and so many children have lost out on his amazing teaching skills."

Alan Flowerday told how his brother would help anyone and did so on a regular basis, "crossing communities and bringing people together". No job was too much for him, he added.

"Robert's house, which was once the happy, warm and welcoming family home, is now a cold, desolate shell that presents a constant reminder of the heinous crime, the tragedy, the cruelty and the torture and the pain," he added.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank those who came forward with information to make today's verdict possible and we must give a huge thank-you to the PSNI and PPS (Public Prosecution Service) and especially our family liaison officers who have supported us throughout, talking us through the various stages and keeping us informed.

Robert Flowerday
Robert Flowerday

"Our family will never be the same; it has drained the zest for life from each of us, the stress has taken its toll on us all and has contributed to and exacerbated the health [issues] of our other two brothers.

"Hopefully after today we can begin our journey back to some sort of normality."

Only when it was finally over, when the cameras had stopped rolling outside Laganside Courts, did the tears come.

The grief of almost two years of suffering for a family who had held themselves with dignity spilled over.

Robert's sister Pat said the murder of the well-known and respected Crumlin man, who lived alone, has had a terrible impact on his brother Eddie.

"Eddie isn't here today," she said.

The scene of the murder of Robert Flowerday
The scene of the murder of Robert Flowerday

"He became very seriously ill a few months ago and is still not well enough to attend.

"No doubt all these happenings have had an adverse impact on his health and certainly on his recovery. He really wanted to be here to support the whole family, but just wasn't able to.

"For us, no sentence could ever make up for the devastation done to this family."

Detective Inspector Michelle Griffin, who led the investigation, said the murder was "brutal and senseless".

"Today his killer has received a life sentence with a minimum term of 16-and-a-half years before he can apply for parole," she said.

"Robert was a man of faith who had dedicated his life to educating children of both primary and secondary school age.

"On the day of his murder, Sunday, January 28, 2018, he attended church in the morning and had tutored a child in the afternoon.

"Robert was at his home in Crumlin getting ready to go to the home of another child for a tutoring session when Michael Owens broke into the one place he should have felt safe and carried out this savage killing.

"He was beaten viciously with a hatchet, a poker and a hammer over a substantial period of time and sadly died from his injuries.

"Mr Owens not only subjected Robert to a horrendous death, he then tried to set a fire to hide his horrific crime, a crime he carried out solely for the purpose of stealing money to feed his drugs and alcohol habit."

Ms Griffin praised the work of detectives in bringing Owens to justice.

She added: "Mr Owens disposed of his outer clothes to get rid of evidence, but thanks to the hard work of my detectives and crime scene investigators, search teams and scientists, we were able to recover DNA off his belt and a plastic bag which he used as a mask when he carried out this horrendous attack.

"We would like to thank the Crumlin community for their help in this investigation, in particular the family that Robert was due to visit that evening who raised the alarm with us as he did not arrive for their child's tutoring session."

She added: "I know today's sentencing will not take away their loss and pain but I hope it will allow them to start to grieve properly."

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