GARDA BOSSES are claimed to have criticised detectives weeks before a tribunal investigated their handling of the infamous Kerry Babies case investigation.
In cabinet briefing notes from November 1984 and to be released by the National Archives on January 4 for the first time, the then Garda Commissioner is said to have described the actions of his detectives as ‘grossly negligent’.
At the time, gardai were criticised over allegations they either assaulted or physically coerced members of a Kerry family to admit to their respective roles in murdering and disposing of one of two new-born babies found in Co Kerry in April 1984.
Kerry Babies Tribunal Judge Kevin Lynch would later find these allegations to be untrue.
Joanne Hayes was charged over the death of one of the babies, who had been stabbed in the heart and found wedged between rocks on a beach in Cahirciveen and later named Baby John before being buried.
The 25-year-old receptionist’s initial statement that she gave birth to an illegitimate baby boy in a field on her parents’ farm 70km away in Abbeydorney and could show gardai his body was not initially believed.
Detectives instead believed she gave birth to her baby in her bed and stabbed him to death before members of her family disposed of his body.
But the day after she was charged with the Cahirciveen baby’s murder, her own baby was found on her parents’ farm.
Subsequent tests on a section of lung taken from the Cahirciveen Baby showed he had a different blood group to Ms Hayes, the man she had been having an affair with and the baby she gave birth to.
The charges against her and her family were withdrawn a few months later. A few weeks ago, an appeal was launched to encourage someone to come forward with information about the death of Baby John.
The infamous case led to a controversial 82-day tribunal set up to look into the events leading up to charges being made against and then later withdrawn against Ms Hayes and members of her family.
It was also established to look into allegations the Hayes family made about them being allegedly coerced into making incriminating statements.
However, the tribunal focused in detail on the morality of Ms Hayes having a relationship with a married man and on inconsistencies in statements and claims made by members of the Hayes family about the way they were say treated by gardai.
By the end of it, gardai were exonerated of the allegations that they assaulted or physically abused members of the Hayes family.
However, some gardai would later be transferred out of the Investigation Section of the Garda Technical Bureau.
A lawyer involved in the original case said last night that had the results of the internal garda enquiry been known, there might not have been any need for the IR£1.6 million tribunal that followed.
The tribunal report would find in October 1985 that Ms Hayes’ baby was born in the family home, not in a field – although this was strongly refuted by her defence team.
The tribunal heard evidence, which was also strongly disputed by Ms Hayes’ defence, from a family member claimed to have been at the birth.
Her lawyer Patrick Mann said last night: ‘I do not recall ever being sent or seeing
the results of that internal garda enquiry.
‘It puts a whole new light on things and shows that garda management were already
unhappy and concerned about the conduct of their own detectives.
‘To have described them as “grossly negligent” is very strong stuff.
‘It does now beg the question: why on earth did we then need to have a big tribunal
to look into garda conduct when in fact the garda and the government already knew what they were dealing with.’
The Kerry Babies Tribunal was established in December 13, 1984.
In a memorandum for the government eight days previously, on December 6, Michael Noonan – the then Minister for Justice – laid out his proposal for a judicial enquiry into the case.
He referred to the fact that the then Garda Commissioner Larry Wren had forwarded to him on November 26, 1984, a report on the internal Garda investigation into the allegations by members of the Hayes family of misconduct by detectives in the Kerry babies case.
At the time, that it had been completed had not been made public.
On December 6 – just before the setting up of the Kerry Babies Tribunal – a memo from the Office of the Ministry for Justice and Equality to government was written up on the ‘Proposed judicial inquiry into the “Kerry Babies” case.
It set out the Minister for Justice Michael Noonan’s case for a tribunal.
He is at all times referred to in the third person in the memo.
And in addition, the briefing note to his government colleagues on what the Commissioner concluded is all in note form.
There are no direct quotes from the Commissioner.
The memo says that Commissioner Wren said the investigation had not been able to arrive at any conclusion in relation to allegations of garda misconduct made by the Hayes family.
He is also reported to have said all the gardai involved denied the allegations and that there was no independent corroborating evidence.
The fact that the Hayes family had refused to be interviewed by the internal Garda investigation investigators was highlighted, as was the refusal by a small number of gardai involved in the case to make full statements or answer specific questions.
The Commissioner concluded, according to Minister Noonan, that ‘some aspects of the original criminal investigation were being concealed’.
Mr Noonan’s outline of some of the main conclusions of the internal garda enquiry are then detailed in the memo.
‘Although tests on the blood grouping of Ms Hayes, the man she was associating with and both babies showed (she) and the man could not be parents of the Cahirciveen Baby, gardai (did not explain) why they persevered with the murder (charge) against Miss Hayes,’ it states.
‘In the opinion of the state pathologist, the knife produced to him was unlikely to have caused most of the wounds on the baby’s body.
‘Notwithstanding that there was some evidence to support the statement of Ms Hayes
that she had given birth in a field and disposed of the baby on the farm . . . Ms Hayes was not invited to point out to gardai the spot where she had disposed of the body.
‘To all intents and purposes, active investigation of the case ceased once the charges
had been preferred against of the Hayes family, notwithstanding the finding of the second baby.
‘The conclusion of the investigating gardai from the finding of the second baby seemed
to be that Ms Hayes must have had twins, although the results of the forensic tests on the blood groups threw serious doubt on this.
‘The Commissioner has concluded that, whatever about the truth of the allegations of the Hayes family, the report clearly indicates that the officers conducting the criminal investigation into the death of the Cahirciveen baby were grossly negligent in their handling of the case.
‘And he considers that some form of sworn enquiry is required to establish what really
Minister Noonan then told Cabinet that he considered that ‘in all the circumstances he has no option but to proceed with the holding of a sworn enquiry into the case’.
And he added: ‘The issues involved are clearly of major public importance and warrant the most searching investigation
‘Moreover, as a result of all the publicity the case has received, there is a very large public interest dimension to the case
‘In addition the Minister has already indicated in statements made in the Dail in relation to the case that, if the Garda investigation failed to clear the matter up he would think it probable that a sworn enquiry would be justified.’
However, in a very prescient observation, given that the identity of either Baby John or his killer remains unknown more than 30 years on, he also had his own reservations about the efficacy of a tribunal.
He said: ‘It must be borne in mind, however, that there can be no guarantee that the sworn enquiry will succeed in satisfactorily resolving the conflicting versions of the events that have already been given.
‘But, at the very least, it will bring the facts of what happened out into the open so that people can make up their own minds about them.
‘There is also the possibility that the examination and cross-examination of witnesses on both may make a difference.’