A 24-year old man who prevented the burial of his neighbour whose body lay undiscovered in her west Belfast home for two years faces jail for the “wicked, wicked series of offences.”
Robert Sharkey was remanded in custody after appearing in court on a series of charges linked to his neighbour Marie Conlon (68), whose remains were discovered in an extreme state of decomposition in the bedroom of her Larkspur Rise home in October 2017.
Belfast Crown Court heard that after stealing a bank card from his deceased neighbour, Sharkey - who had lived in the flat above Ms Conlon for around five years - used it fraudulently online for two years.
As well as paying Ms Conlon’s rates bill in a bid to avoid detection, Sharkey ordered the same nine-inch pepperoni and anchovy pizza and two tins of juice for delivery from Dominos Pizza every day between 4pm and 6pm. Prosecuting barrister Peter Magill said: “So regular was this that staff nick-named him ‘the fish guy.’”
As details of Sharkey’s offending emerged for the first time, it was revealed that after finding his neighbour’s body, he said he was worried about ringing the police as he was struggling with money. He also said that after stealing from her, he closed the door on her flat and “pretended that nothing had happened”.
Judge Piers Grant branded Sharkey’s criminality as “a wicked, wicked series of offences against a decent woman who was clearly vulnerable because of her age.” He also told Sharkey, from Grays Hill in Bangor, that his offending was an “affront ... to any right-thinking person”, and said: “Prepare yourself on the basis a custodial sentence will almost likely be imposed.”
As relatives of Ms Conlon’s sat in the public gallery, they heard how Sharkey defrauded in excess of £11,700 from her estate. They also heard how Sharkey kicked her door in around October 2015 after noticing her post was piling up, and found her dead in bed.
Prosecutor Peter Magill said at this point, Sharkey stole £50 from her handbag. The authorities were not alerted about her death, and he returned to her flat when he needed light-bulbs, which he stole from her flat along with batteries, a cup and a screwdriver.
Sharkey also went through her post, found her new bank card, and began to use it fraudulently.
Mr Magill said that on Friday, October 6 last year Ms Conlon’s remains were discovered by police following concerns for her safety raised by her family. Her relatives told police she was an extremely private person who kept to herself and made little attempt to maintain contact with them.
Telling the court there were “no immediate concerns” regarding a suspicious death, Mr Magill said that from used-by dates on food in her kitchen, it was determined that she died in January 2015.
On October 6, police were admitted to the apartment complex by Sharkey, who told them Marie was out and wouldn’t be back until that evening. When asked by officers when he had last seen his neighbour, Sharkey said not for a few weeks, but he had heard someone coming and going below him.
Checks were then made into Ms Conlon’s bank account, which showed a lawful withdrawal had been made on her bank card on January 6, 2015. Her weekly pension was still being paid into her account, which was otherwise dormant until October 2015 when purchases were made on her card to Domino’s Pizza.
Mr Magill revealed the total amount of the daily deliveries from Domino’s came to £5,988.29 over a two-year period.
Other payments made from her account over the same period included purchases totalling £3,452.68 to Sainsbury’s, as well payments of £1,030 to O2 and £285 to Power NI.
The court heard when he was arrested on October 10, 2017, Sharkey’s apartment was filled with empty Domino’s pizza boxes. During police interview, he admitted using Ms Conlon’s bank details, and also confessed he was careful to pay her rates bill in a bid to evade detection.
When asked about finding Ms Conlon’s body, he said: “I was worried about ringing the police, but it was also a time when I was struggling with money. I had no money at all and she had her handbag in her bed beside her, and her purse was open and there was money in it and I took it. I left the apartment and closed the door and pretended that nothing had happened.”
He subsequently admitted a charge of preventing the lawful burial of a corpse on dates between August 2015 and October 2017, of breaking into her house and stealing items, and six counts of fraud by false representation.
Defence barrister Chris Holmes said Sharkey had experienced a difficult background and was a “lone soul who lived a depressive existence.” Telling the court that Sharkey had “fallen off the radar” when it came to addressing his mental health, Mr Holmes also spoke of Sharkey’s depression, alcohol abuse and vulnerability - but said “this does not in any way excuse his behaviour”.
Regarding Ms Conlon’s family, Mr Holmes said Sharkey “offers his sincere and deepest apologies for the distress he had caused”, and had lodged just over £2,000 for repayment.
After pointing out his client made full admissions to police, Mr Holmes was told by Judge Grant that Sharkey had been “caught pretty much red handed” after pilfering the finances of his neighbour “on a daily basis” whose remains were “lying in an appalling state”.
Telling Sharkey his behaviour was “disgraceful”, Judge Grant remanded him into custody and told him he will be sentenced next Friday.