Farmer and labourer ‘were good friends with no disputes’

The scene at Feystown Road, Glenarm where Arthur Gibson, 61, and Michael Murphy, 37, died in a shooting incident.
The scene at Feystown Road, Glenarm where Arthur Gibson, 61, and Michael Murphy, 37, died in a shooting incident.

The fiancée of a farm labourer who killed his boss before turning the gun on himself broke down in court as she recounted her partner’s battles with paranoia.

Michael “Mickey” Murphy, 37, blasted 61-year-old farmer Arthur Gibson at close range with a shotgun in the kitchen of the latter’s farmhouse and then took his own life, Ballymena Coroner’s Court was told.

During the inquest it emerged that Mr Gibson had apparently twice saved his employee of 15 years from suicide bids.

Jennifer Mulvenna, Mr Murphy’s partner of 20 years, who was pregnant with their fifth child when the double shooting happened on the Feystown Road farm near the village of Glenarm last September, said the two men were great friends who had no disputes with each other.

Ms Mulvenna told coroner Suzanne Anderson that her fiancé viewed life-long bachelor Mr Gibson – known as Art – as a “father figure” and considered his farm a “second home”.

“Art was part of our family, all our lives – it was my children, me, Art and Mickey,” she said.

She revealed that her partner had a long history of mental health issues triggered by periods of drug addiction, and suffered from intense bouts of paranoia and had attempted suicide in the past.

But a tearful Ms Mulvenna, who recalled having once tried to get her fiancé sectioned under the Mental Health Act, said she always considered him more a danger to himself than to anyone around him.

She said Mr Murphy had stopped taking prescribed drugs to deal with his paranoia around nine months before the incident because they had undermined his ability to work.

“I didn’t notice any real difference in his behaviour because of this,” she said.

Ms Mulvenna said her partner had a relapse of a cocaine addiction a number of months before the shooting but said she did not think he was actively using the drug at the time of the incident.

On the day it unfolded, she described him as being in “good form” when he left for work.

A lump of cannabis was found in Mr Murphy’s pocket after he died. While traces of the drug were also found in his system, a medical expert told the court he could not be certain whether he was under the influence at the time of his death.

Mr Gibson’s sister Elizabeth had visited the farm hours before her brother suffered a single blast to the chest from his own legally held shotgun.

She said neither she nor her husband noticed anything untoward.

“Mickey appeared to me to be his usual jovial, light-hearted self,” she said. “Neither of us noticed anything unusual at all with either of them.”

The farmer’s sister painted a picture of a harmonious relationship between him and his worker.

“Mickey and Art were friends, it was more than just employee and employer,” she said.

Ms Gibson said that her brother had twice intervened when Mr Murphy was attempting suicide.

In the wake of the second occasion in 2009, he had driven him to Londonderry to check him into a medical unit for rehabilitation.

She said Mr Murphy had also helped his boss when he was in need, taking on the running of the farm when Mr Gibson suffered a heart attack.

She added: “They were good friends and they were good to each other. Art couldn’t have run the farm without Mickey.”

Later in the hearing at Ballymena courthouse, Ms Mulvenna said Mr Gibson had once paid for her partner to receive private health treatment to address his problems.

A lawyer for the Murphy family said they wanted to pass on their deepest condolences to Mr Gibson’s relatives.

Recording that Mr Murphy shot Mr Gibson with a single round before shooting himself in the head, Ms Anderson also sympathised with everyone who had been affected by what she described as a “tragic case”.