Manchester

Nellie Geraghty death: Man jailed for murdering ashes widow

Mark Royle
Image caption Royle claimed to have been taking drugs at the time of the attack

A former drug addict has been jailed for life for murdering widow Nellie Geraghty when he stole a handbag containing her husband Frank's ashes.

Mrs Geraghty, 79, was found on the ground still clutching the torn strap of the bag in Shaw, Oldham, in November and died later in hospital.

Mark Royle, 37, had pleaded not guilty to charges of robbery, murder and manslaughter at Manchester Crown Court.

He was sentenced to serve a minimum term of 28 years.

Royle, who had denied stealing Mrs Geraghty's bag, was also convicted of robbery.

He pleaded guilty to another robbery two weeks later, in Rochdale, where he targeted another woman for her purse, police said.

'Cowardly and despicable'

He used the money that was in Mrs Geraghty's bag to buy drugs, officers said, and changed his clothes and disposed of his bike to evade arrest.

CCTV footage placed him close to the scene at the time.

Mrs Geraghty's bag was later recovered from a nearby river, but her husband's ashes were never found.

Ian Rushton, deputy chief Crown prosecutor for the North West, said: "Mrs Geraghty was still clutching the handle of her bag when she was found unconscious, evidence of how bravely she must have struggled to prevent her bag, and her husband's ashes, from being stolen.

"Mark Royle's actions were completely the opposite, cowardly and despicable.

"He deliberately targeted an elderly woman because she wouldn't be able to defend herself and used appalling violence to snatch her bag from her.

"He must have known that she was seriously injured, but his only concern after attacking her was to use the cash that he had robbed to buy drugs."

Mrs Geraghty's family said they had been "completely devastated" by the death of the "independent, popular lady".

In a statement, they added: "It has been a very difficult eight months for us all. The only comforting thought to us is that Nellie is now back together with her beloved Frank."

During the trial, Royle, of no fixed address but formerly from Shaw, had claimed he was buying and smoking drugs when the attack happened.

'Appalled' community

Image caption Nellie Geraghty's handbag contained the ashes of her late husband Frank

The court heard evidence from an acquaintance who said Royle told him he had been involved in a "graft", or theft, which had "gone a bit naughty".

The court had heard Mrs Geraghty suffered head injuries likely to have been caused by a kick or stamp.

She was last seen by a neighbour walking from Elizabeth Grove to the nearby community centre in Victoria Street at 11:50 GMT on 24 November.

A minute later the defendant was captured on CCTV cycling away from the area, the court heard.

Mrs Geraghty's husband had died some years ago and the jury heard she was so devoted to him she carried his ashes in her shoulder bag when she went out.

The court also heard she would often carry up to £200 in her bag.

Following the crime, Shaw residents organised search parties to look for Mr Geraghty's ashes, without success.

Mrs Geraghty's family said they were "overwhelmed" by the community's response, and Det Ch Insp Joanne Rawlinson said the crime had "appalled" local people.

Det Ch Insp Rawlinson added: "I believe that when she was confronted by Mark Royle, a desperate drug addict who was in the area, intent on stealing her shoulder bag, she sadly gave her life fighting to protect those ashes."

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