The wheels of justice move slowly.  Sometimes they move very slowly indeed.  Covering a court case from start to finish mean you frequently have to sit through days where nothing happens, very, very slowly.  It’s easy to forget as a journalist that the requirements of a court case are very different to our requirements for a story.  While we might take a line from here and a line from there, the prosecution have to do the hard work of attempting to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt.

What this means in practise is that sometimes a relatively simple point gets proved from several different angles.  Instead of one witness saying something is so, you might have a dozen also saying the same thing.  It all depends how many were there to see what particular piece of evidence is being proved.  From a legal point of view there’s also a necessity to prove how A got to B and how a particular piece of evidence made it’s way to court.

Today was one of those days of proving things.  We started off with Melissa Mahon’s dentist when she was 8 or 9 who provided the fillings that formed part of the identification by the dental expert earlier in the week.  He couldn’t remember treating Melissa, it was back in 2001 and the original notes had been destroyed but he  confirmed that the frightened child had been referred to his practice because she needed baby teeth extracting and would have been too nervous to have the treatment without the heavier sedatement offered by his practice.

We also heard from members of Ronnie Dunbar’s soccer playing friends.  Four or five middle aged men who met once or twice or even three times a week to kick a ball around.  We had previously heard, when his two younger daughters gave evidence last week that Ronnie would often get lifts to practice and would always bring his daughters with him.  Both girls maintain that their father took them with him to football practise after dumping Melissa’s body in the River Bonet.  According to their accounts they were picked up at 8 o’clock.  Each one of the witnesses today confirmed that Thursday night football in Collooney, the fixture in question, ran from 7 until 8.

Ronnie Dunbar, charged under the name Ronald McManus denies murdering Melissa Mahon on an unknown date between September 14th and 30th 2006 somewhere in Sligo.  He also denies threatening to kill his daughter, Samantha Conroy.

The men also told of an occurrence one practice when Melissa had accompanied the Dunbars to football.  According to one witness, Melissa and Samantha had run into the toilets at the sports centre and had held the door shut so that Samantha’s younger sister could not get in.  The girl lost her temper and she and Melissa had a hair-pulling fight that spilled out of the centre after football was over.  They had to be split up by their father twice, one witness told the court.

We also heard from various witnesses who took the stand to confirm that Ronnie Dunbar had been interested in buying an old barge that had been moored on the River Bonet near the spot where Melissa’s body was allegedly dumped.  The barge is long sunk, something to do with the influx of different nationalities who had started frequenting the river in recent years according to it’s owner.  The blue rope that tethered it is still there, clearly visible in the crime scene photographs.

Forensic Anthropologist Laureen Buckley gave the most disturbing evidence of the day, painting a grim picture of the wildlife that came down out of the woods on the shores of Lough Gill and tore the body in the sleeping bag apart.  Ribs and leg bones showed distinct signs of chewing, she told the court, and had apparently been torn away from the body.  She suggested that the reason for the scattering of the bones over such a long distance was due to the fact that the foxes that came down to feast had taken their plunder into more sheltered areas.  The hands and feet, missing from the partial skeleton, would have been the most portable and were long gone by the time the remains were discovered in February 2008.

The head would have been one of the first things to go, rolling away from the body back into the lake where it was found.  It was this skull, damaged and partial as it was that gave the clearest indication of how long the body had been submerged.  Ms Buckley estimated two years.

This scenario was broadly in keeping with the evidence from Lieutenant Commander Brian Hevers of the Irish Navy who described the journey the body could have taken, carried along by the Bonet as it became lighter with decomposition, to be deposited on the shore of Lough Gill, not far away from the river mouth.  He estimated this journey would have been over relatively quickly, taking a maximum of three weeks.