Widow, 79,
‘killed as ashes of husband 
grabbed’

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A widow died of a heart attack after a bag containing her husband’s ashes was violently wrenched from her grasp by a drug user looking for cash to feed his habit, a court heard yesterday.

Nellie Geraghty, 79, was found face down in the mud just 100 yards from her home in Shaw, near Oldham, Greater Manchester, as she died in a “most violent attack” on her way to her local luncheon club.

She suffered serious head injuries with the “overwhelming likelihood” that she was knocked to the ground and while lying on the floor was kicked or stamped on, a jury at Manchester Crown Court was told.

It was also possible she may instead have been punched to the floor and that her head had bounced on the ground in the fall.

Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said: “Either way we say this was a most violent attack on a vulnerable, elderly lady in which she sustained serious injuries which ultimately led to her death.”

He said the accused, Mark Royle, 37, was living rough in Shaw at the time of the incident last November.

“Mark Royle was a user of hard drugs at the time of these matters,” the prosecutor said. “He was funding his drug use, we say, in part by committing crime.

“We say that on the occasion we are concerned with he resorted to a crime of violence in order to fund his drug habit.”

Mrs Geraghty was an “extremely active and independent lady” who lived alone on an estate of sheltered housing for the elderly.

Her husband, Frank, had died some years ago and she was so devoted to him she had taken to carrying some of his ashes in her shoulder bag whenever she went out, the court heard.

She also tended to carry up to £200 in her bag at any given time.

Mrs Geraghty was seen by a neighbour walking from her address in Elizabeth Grove to the nearby community centre at 11.50am on November 24. But she was discovered by passers-by just three minutes later on a footpath.

Her spectacles had been broken and were tangled in her scarf.

He said: “She was deeply unconscious and she was mumbling. She appeared to be seriously injured and was bleeding from an injury to the back of her head.

“Her bag was missing and it appeared to have been wrenched from her grasp – snapped along the strap .

“She still had hold of the strap in her right hand from which the bag had been torn.”

Mrs Geraghty was taken to Royal Oldham Hospital but died in the early hours of November 26. The cause of death was internal bleeding and a heart attack – likely to have been suffered at the crime scene.

Mr Wright said the jury would hear evidence from a neuropathologist that the injuries to the head were caused by “considerable force” which caused the brain to shift.

CCTV footage in Shaw showed the defendant from 9.40am onwards riding a mountain bike with no particular purpose of direction. “We say he was looking for an opportunity for crime to fund his drug habit.”

He said that immediately after the attack on Mrs Geraghty the defendant was captured on camera cycling away from the vicinity.

Royle, of no fixed address, denies murder or manslaughter and robbery.

A friend of his said the defendant visited his home on the morning of the robbery and was “desperate for money”, the jury heard. Later that day Royle had a substantial amount of cash on him.

He told a friend that he had stolen a laptop and then sold it. Mr Wright said no such crime had taken place that day in Shaw.

Royle was also spotted near a bridge on a river in the town. A search of the river was conducted and the bag was recovered.

On December 9 he was arrested in Rochdale town centre after he snatched a purse from a woman.

When questioned about the robbery of Mrs Geraghty he denied any involvement but he admitted he was the character captured on CCTV.

The trial continues.