A man has been jailed after he killed an elderly widow by robbing her and leaving her lying face down in an alleyway clutching the strap of her handbag.
Mark Royle wrenched the bag from Nellie Geraghty, who fought hard to hold onto it because it contained the ashes of her husband, and left her with severe head injuries.
Royle (born 14/11/1974) of no fixed abode, but previously from Shaw, was found guilty of murder and robbery after a trial at Manchester Crown Court, Crown Square.
He also pleaded guilty to another robbery, two weeks later, in Rochdale, where he targeted another woman for her purse.
Today, Thursday 2 August 2012 Royle was jailed for life with a minimum term of 28 years.
Nellie, 79, lived in Shaw all her life and on Thursday 24 November 2011, was on her way to a regular lunch appointment with friends at the community centre in the town.
In her handbag, she had the ashes of her husband Frank which she carried as a way of dealing with the grief of losing him 17 years earlier. The bag also contained cash, her bus pass and other personal items.Royle was a drug addict who, on his mountain bike, was in the area that morning looking for an opportunity to obtain money to feed his habit. CCTV inquiries by detectives later illustrated him circling the streets in the Shaw area.
While there was no CCTV at the scene, other footage from nearby streets, both before and after, together with witness testimony showed that Royle was in the alleyway at the time of the attack on Nellie.
Nellie was last seen entering the alleyway at the end of Elizabeth Grove by a neighbour at 11.50am.
Royle came across Nellie as she exited the alleyway leading to Kershaw Street.
Royle grabbed the handbag from Nellie’s shoulder, but she resisted.
Scientific evidence indicates that considerable force was used to cause the handbag and strap to break in such a way.
As a result Nellie was left on the floor deeply unconscious with three separate and severe head injuries, still clutching the strap which was in her hand.
Passersby then found her, moments later, lying face down in the mud. They offered first aid and contacted the emergency services.
Nellie suffered internal head injuries which required treatment in intensive care. The stress of the incident caused her to suffer a heart attack, from which she sadly died less than 48 hours later.
An investigation was launched by murder detectives in Greater Manchester Police’s Major Incident Team.
Nellie’s family were offered overwhelming support from the people of Shaw and the general public.
Following the attack on Nellie, Mark Royle used the money that was in her bag to buy drugs. He told associates that he had stolen a laptop from a car near to the Market and sold it.
In an attempt to evade arrest Royle changed his clothes and disposed of his bike.
He was sighted just after 1pm on a pathway alongside the River Beal at Dunwood Park Courts.
An extensive Police search of this area and the river later resulted in a Boots advantage card belonging to Nellie being found in January 2012, and then in February 2012 Nellie's handbag was also recovered from the river.
Mark Royle left the area to stay with an associate with Manchester. Whilst with this associate he disclosed that he had 'done a graft that had gone a bit naughty'.
Unfortunately to this day Frank’s ashes have not been found.
Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Rawlinson, the senior investigating officer, said: “Nellie was a devoted wife who was left heartbroken by Frank’s death. Her only way of coming to terms with her loss and moving on with her life was to keep his ashes close to her. This tragedy meant that Frank was taken from her a second time.
“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.
“Despite her struggle, Royle was determined to steal her bag and cause Nellie harm in the process.
“I know that this was a crime that appalled the community in Shaw and the wider general public. I am very grateful for all of the assistance afforded by the residents of Shaw during this enquiry.
“In order to reach today’s outcome, GMP as a force have displayed tenacity, patience, determination and have conducted a meticulous investigation.
“This was not a case where there was a clear line of enquiry that automatically led us to Mark Royle. There were no witnesses who saw what happened, there was no CCTV covering the scene, and there was no forensic evidence. Furthermore, Nellie was too badly hurt to give us her account and never regained consciousness before she sadly died.
“I would therefore like to pay tribute to the outstanding work of the team of detectives who worked tirelessly on this lengthy inquiry.
“They had the task of following all the lines of inquiry that followed the overwhelming public response, including a Crimewatch appeal, and they also spent many hours examining the CCTV to paint a picture that was eventually able to prove to a jury, beyond reasonable doubt, that Mark Royle was the man responsible for Nellie’s death.
“Our thoughts remain with the family who, whilst left utterly devastated by this tragedy, have been dignified in their grief, which has been compounded due to Frank’s ashes not being found.”
Chief Superintendent Tim Forber said: “The local response that followed this tragedy was a credit to the people of Shaw.
“The family was touched by the tributes and goodwill that they were afforded. People turned out in their droves to help find the handbag during the public search, and what felt like the whole town stopped to pay tribute to Nellie as she passed them for the last time during her funeral.
“This tragedy brought the people of Shaw closer together, a community spirit that was so clearly on display when the area was left devastated by the tragic gas explosion here only weeks ago.
“I know that the shock and upset caused by the circumstances of Nellie’s death could easily turn to anger, but I am grateful that the community has patiently waited for justice to prevail.”
While the police investigation to trace him was ongoing, Mark Royle targeted a 35-year-old woman, on Baillie Street in Rochdale, at about 4pm on Friday 9 December 2011.
He walked into the woman’s path and grabbed her purse. Whilst pulling at the purse he told her to ‘drop it b**ch.’
After stealing it, Royle was chased for ten minutes by a member of the public. He was apprehended by police officers in a nearby shopping arcade, before being arrested for the robbery, as well as Nellie’s murder.