03 Jul 2022

Timeline in murder investigation of Laois au pair Aoife Phelan

Murdered Laois au pair Aoife Phelan went missing on October 25 and on Wednesday, November 7 her body was discovered buried deep in a hole at a property on the Timahoe Road, Portlaoise.

Murdered Laois au pair Aoife Phelan went missing on October 25 and on Wednesday, November 7 her body was discovered buried deep in a hole at a property on the Timahoe Road, Portlaoise.

And amid heartbreaking scenes tragic Aoife was laid to rest in St Patrick’s Cemetery, Ballyroan following an emotional and sad funeral mass on Saturday, November 10.

Here is a timeline of the events as they unfolded ;

Thursday, October 25

6.15pm: 30-year-old Aoife Phelan, a native of Cashel, Ballyroan, Portlaoise, worked as an au pair and she left her employer’s home at The Hermitage, Portlaoise.

6.30pm: Aoife met her friend at the Borris Road roundabout.

8.10pm: Aoife was last seen alive when she left her friend’s house at Colliers View, Portlaoise, to apparently meet the person who contacted her on her mobile phone.

Friday, October 26

am: Alarm raised. Employers get in touch with Aoife’s family after she failed to turn up for work.

pm: Aoife’s family reported her disappearance to Gardaí.

Saturday, October 27

Aoife’s concerned family and friends begin erecting posters around Portlaoise seeking information on her whereabouts.

Gardaí in Portlaoise made their first appeal seeking assistance from the public in tracing the whereabouts of 30-year-old Aoife Phelan. “She is described as being approximately 5’7’’ in height, slim build, has long blonde/sandy coloured hair and blue eyes. When last seen she was wearing jeans and a knitted jumper. She also has a red bomber style jacket with her.”

Sunday, October 28

Aoife’s father Michael, in an interview said: “This is totally out of character for Aoife. She lost her phone once before and she let everyone know on Facebook. This is just something she would not do. She has no passport and has never left the country. All Aoife likes is being at home with the family.

“We can’t eat or sleep, we have been up all night with worry and tonight will be the same, we have no clue where she is or what has happened.

“She got a message to meet someone and off she went and that’s it. We don’t know anything more. I don’t want her to be another Jo Jo Dullard, but you can’t help thinking these things; you just think of everything.”

Tuesday, October 30

5pm: Gardaí investigating Aoife’s disappearance held a media briefing at Portlaoise Garda Station. Superintendent Yvonne Lundon said: “Aoife’s family and friends are extremely concerned, as are Gardaí. We are very anxious for her welfare. We are investigating all avenues of enquiry. We conducted searches in Portlaoise and Mountmellick which produced negative results.”

Door-to-door enquiries were carried out, motorists were quizzed at local checkpoints and later the Garda helicopter was also used to assist in the search for Aoife.

Wednesday, October 31

Divers from the Garda Water Unit searched the man-made lakes in Kilminchy housing estate, not far from the location on Collier’s Lane where Aoife was last seen.

Portlaoise Gardaí renewed their appeal for public assistance to trace Aoife. “She may have been wearing a silver necklace and a watch with a black strap.”

Garda sources also believe it is ‘highly unlikely’ foul play is involved but added ‘there are big concerns for Aoife’s safety’.

Thursday, November 1

8.10pm: On the same spot and at the same time as Aoife was last seen a week earlier, a poignant candlelight vigil took place. Aoife’s mother Betty made an emotional appeal, “If you are out there somewhere, it doesn’t matter what trouble you are in, or anything, we are a strong family, we will be there for you and we love you.”

Sunday, November 4

11am – 4pm: Over three hundred civilian volunteers were involved in a co-ordinated search around Portlaoise and Ballyroan organised by Aoife’s family, community activists and friends. A quarry, boglands, drains, disused farm yards and forestry were searched in what was described as a mammoth effort by local volunteers.

pm: Following a weekend evaluation of the information gathered over the past eleven days, Gardaí switched focus and upgraded their investigation from a missing persons case to a murder hunt.

Gardaí seized a 4x4 vehicle in which they discovered some of Aoife’s personal belongings. A suspect’s mobile phone was also seized.

Monday, November 5

4pm: Gardaí in Portlaoise arrested a 24-year-old local male in relation to the murder of Aoife. He was detained in Portlaoise Garda Station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

5.30pm: On learning of the arrest, shocked Fr Gerard Ahern, PP of Ballyroan told the ‘Leinster Express’: “I have been in touch with the family every day, they would have been hoping for some good news but with each passing day, optimism faded.”

6pm: Gardaí began searching a property on the Timahoe road, Portlaoise.

Tuesday, November 6

am: Questioning of the suspect recommenced at Portlaoise Garda Station. Forensic Gardaí conducted a dig on land adjoining the sealed-off property on the Timahoe Road, Portlaoise.

pm: Gardaí commenced what was described as ‘a targeted search’ in the Monasterevin area. The M7 Limerick/Dublin Rd was closed northbound between J15 Ballybrittas and J14 Monasterevin for a time and diversions were in place. Divers from two sections of the Garda Water Unit searched stretches of the River Barrow until fading light forced them to call off the search.

Midnight: Gardaí released the man in custody without charge. They said a file was being prepared for the Director of Public Prosectutions. Investigations ongoing.

Wednesday, November 7

10am: At the M7 bridge over the River Barrow near Monasterevin, a team of Garda divers recommenced their search. A section of the hard shoulder on the Dublin-bound carriageway was sectioned off with traffic cones as a fleet of Garda vehicles, including its water unit trucks, parked nearby.

At a second location - behind a premises including a large shed, house and grounds on the Timahoe Road – Gardaí began a second day of digging and after removing rubbles and tyres out of a deep hole they erected a forensics tent.

11am: Shortly after 11am as part of a planned search operation, Gardaí discovered the body of a female located at Timahoe Road in Portlaoise. The scene was preserved, pending a full technical examination. The Office of the State Pathologist was notified.

2pm: Aoife’s employer Darren Bayliss tweeted: “Aoife Phelan, you are missed greatly by myself Linda and Odette but you will never be forgotten by us...RIP Odette’s fafa xx...I’ve had my ups and downs with Twitter but when it really matters there is no better community anywhere so thank you all again for the support.”

2.45pm: Superintendent Dave Taylor from the Garda Press Office told a media briefing outside Portlaoise Garda Station that State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy is at the scene carrying out a preliminary examination. A post mortem will take place later today.

The identity of the body isn’t confirmed. The search of the River Barrow has been called off. The family of Aoife Phelan have been informed of developments by a Garda Family Liaison Officer. Supt Taylor thanked members of the public for their assistance. Asked if anyone had been charged, Supt Taylor said the investigation was still ‘live’.

3.30pm: Body of a female has been taken away from field at Timahoe Road, Portlaoise and a post mortem will be conducted at the Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore.

6pm: Gardaí re-arrest the 24-year-old suspect and he is being detained at Portlaoise Garda Station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.

pm: A Facebook tribute page called ‘RIP Aoife Phelan’ is set up and overnight it attracts more than 4,500 likes, with people expressing their sympathy. 

Thursday, November 8

am: Gardaí continue their questioning of suspect.

am: Members of Aoife’s family request that the ‘RIP Aoife Phelan’ Facebook page to be removed as a mark of respect. One contributor commented, “There is a post stating that Aoife’s sister has requested that this page be removed. Aoife’s family’s feelings and wishes should be at the forefront of our minds right now. This page was created a mere two hours after the discovery of Aoife’s body and no family member or close friend would have rushed to Facebook in the wake of that. Please remember that her family is grieving a loss that nobody should have to endure.”

12.45pm: Gardaí confirm that the body discovered during a planned search operation at Timahoe Road, Portlaoise has been formally identified as that of missing person Aoife Phelan. Post mortem results are not being made public for operational reasons.

pm: Facebook tribute page called ‘RIP Aoife Phelan’ was removed. Gardaí urge members of the public to be cautious when posting comments on Facebook and on all forms of social media in relation to the murder investigation.

8pm: A memorial service was held in St Patrick’s Church in Aoife’s home village of Ballyroan.

11.27pm: Following consultation with the DPP, senior Garda officers leading the investigation decide to charge the suspect.

Friday, November 9

11am: 24-year-old Robert Corbet, Sheffield Cross, Timahoe Road, Portlaoise was charged with the murder of Aoife Phelan at Capoley, Portlaoise on Thursday, October 25 during a special sitting of Portlaoise District Court.

In evidence, Detective Sergeant John Healy said that in reply to being charged at 11.27pm in Portlaoise Garda Station last night, Corbet shook his head and said no.

Judge Catherine Staines remanded Corbet in custody to Clover Hill prison until Thursday, November 15 and she recommended that he receive psychiatric treatment.

With regard to Solicitor Declan’s Breen’s application for legal aid, Judge Staines said she would have to receive a statement of means before finalising her decision.

11.06am: There was a significant Garda presence around the Portlaoise Court building. And when murder accused Robert Corbet emerged from a rear exit and was escorted hurriedly on his journey to prison, angry members of the public gathered on the street outside roared ‘scum bag’ and ‘murderer’ at the patrol car as it travelled away from the courthouse down Main Street.

2pm: The Phelan family released a statement;

“We are happy to have Aoife back with us, her family.

“Her death has left us sad and heartbroken. She was a loving daughter and sister and we will miss her dearly.

“We are overwhelmed by the support and the kindness we have received over the past two weeks. We would like to thank all the people who helped in searching for Aoife and who have been there for us, especially family members, neighbours, friends and the Ballyroan community.

“We would like to acknowledge the efforts of An Garda Síochana, who have worked tirelessly to have Aoife returned to us.

“We ask now for privacy as we spend our remaining precious time with Aoife today and attend to her funeral tomorrow.”

Saturday, November 10

am: It was revealed that the post mortem examination found that tragic Aoife wasn’t pregnant, despite a previous belief she was four months’ pregnant. She suffered injuries to her neck and head.

2pm: St Patrick’s Church, Ballyroan was overflowing with mourners for Aoife’s funeral service where her brother Darragh described her as ‘Aoife Estelle Phelan – beautiful, radiant, joyful star’. Fr Gerard Ahern told the congregation, “We shouldn’t be here today but that is the reality we are confronted with. That someone should die in the circumstances in which Aoife’s life was taken goes beyond human understanding. It is a senseless loss of life.”

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