Melissa Mahon’s bones were found scattered across part of the shore line at Lough Gill in County Sligo 18 months after she disappeared. The 14-year-old went missing in mid September 2006. On previous occassion the month before her final disappearance her parents waited over two weeks before going down to the garda station in Sligo town to report her missing.
Melissa’s parents and one of her sisters gave evidence in court today, on the first day of the trial of Ronald Dunbar (also known as McManus). He denies murdering Melissa on an unknown date and an unknown place in September 2006. He also denies threatening to kill one of his own daughters in a connected incident.
Melissa’s mother, Mary, told prosecuting senior council Isobel Kennedy that the last time she saw her daughter was when she turned up to shower and change. At the time she was staying in the Lios Na nOg residential care home in Sligo Town after making allegations of abuse against both her parents. Mary Mahon told the court that Melissa came in and had a shower then ate dinner with the family before being picked up to go back to the care home. That was the last time she saw her daughter.
Mary agreed that, when Melissa went missing in August 2006, she had not been unduly worried and had presumed she had gone to the home of the accused. She had gone round and asked “Ronnie” Dunbar, the accused, if her daughter was there. When he told her no, she returned home and rang the gardai. However, she didn’t follow up on this phone call or go to the garda station until two and a half weeks later when she was brought down by Melissa’s social worker.
Mrs Mahon told the court she had moved back to Sligo after almost thirty years living in London. After a few weeks her husband Frederick had moved over with the two younger girls, Melissa and Leanne. A third daughter, Yvonne, moved over on her own some time later.
She agreed with defence counsel Brendan Greahan that several of her older children had been on the protected children’s register in the UK and three of her older daughters had been put into care. Asked why she had refused to make a statement about her daughter’s final disappearance she snapped back “It wasn’t up to me to make a statement because she wasn’t in my care.”
She agreed that she had told gardai after Melissa’s disappearance that her daughter “had no family” and that she would beat her when she found her. She also agreed that she had refused to give the names and contact details of relatives in England Melissa could have gone to or to say who had told her of sightings of Melissa after her disappearance.
Melissa’s father Frederick told the court that his youngest child had fallen into bad company when she made friends with two of the accused’s daughters who went to school with her at Sligo’s Mercy Convent. He said he had not known about the allegations Melissa had made about him when she ended up in Lios Na nOg centre until after her disappearance when his wife and the social worker had told him.
Melissa’s 19-year-old sister Leanna told the court that she and Melissa used to go to the Dunbar’s house on a daily basis after becoming friendly with two of his daughters during detention at school. Their father would take them all on “spins” around Sligo, sometimes taking them swimming at one of Sligo’s beaches, other times to places of local interest, like Queen Maeve’s tomb at Knocknarea. She told the court it was this visit that had sparked her falling out with the Dunbar family. She hadn’t wanted to leave so soon and the subsequent falling out had seen her refuse to enter the Dunbar house again.
Ronnie had also brought the girls to watch him play football in nearby Collooney. Leanna said Ronnie and her sister had been very close. She had often seen Melissa lying on top of the accused as he lay on the couch with her head on his chest. Ronnie would often ask Melissa to rub Vaseline onto a new and raw tattoo, she told the court. Leanna said she hadn’t thought anything of this close content at the time, although her tone suggested she had come to different conclusions since.
Leanna said that some time after Melissa’s disappearance she had been in her sister’s bedroom and had found a photograph of the accused in a red toy box that Melissa had. Leanna said she ripped the photograph into pieces but eventually showed it to her sister Yvonne.
Months later her sister’s scattered bones would be found and eventually identified. Over the next weeks we’ll hear the details of how they were found and what conclusions were made. But tonight the abiding image is of a lost little girl who died far too young.