Interrogation detective in 'Kerry Babies' case denies existence of garda 'Heavy Gang'
'We were good interrogators. Joanne Hayes and I got on like a house on fire. I was nice to that girl', claims retired Detective Inspector Gerry O'Carroll
A former detective who worked on the Kerry Babies case and interviewed Joanne Hayes in the 1980s has lashed out at allegations of a so-called garda 'Heavy Gang' in operation at the time.
"I deny the existence of a so-called Heavy Gang, we were good interrogators. Joanne Hayes and I got on like a house on fire. I was nice to that girl," claims now retired Detective Inspector Gerry O'Carroll.
The Kerry Babies case centred on the investigation by gardai in Co Kerry into the killing of one newborn baby and the alleged killing of another in April 1984.
The mother who concealed the second baby, Joanne Hayes, was arrested and charged with the murder of the first baby, which was found washed up on White Strand near Caherciveen with 28 stab wounds.
Joanne and four members of the Hayes family signed what they claimed were false statements confessing to a role in the baby's death. He was known as 'Baby John'.
The Hayes lived in Abbeydorney, approximately 80 kilometres away from Cahirciveen, and Joanne admitted that when her baby died during childbirth they secretly buried the infant on their farm.
This followed hours of interrogation by detectives at Tralee garda station. After garda forensics revealed Joanne Hayes could not have been the mother of the Caherciveen baby - the babies, for example, had different blood groups - all charges were dropped.
But the case made national and international headlines and led the Government of the day to establish a State tribunal to investigate the actions of the gardai involved.
In December 2020, Judge Kevin Lynch's Tribunal report was overturned and the Hayes family received a State apology and substantial settlement.
All of the gardai involved in the case have always vehemently denied any allegations of wrongdoing.
A three-part RTE series, Crimes and Confessions, centres on allegations of a 'Heavy Gang', with the Kerry Babies scandal the focus of the last programme tomorrow.
In this week's episode, Tralee solicitor Pat Mann - who has advocated on behalf of Joanne Hayes since 1984 - recalls the ongoing impact of the case on Joanne and her family.
"She's had the burden of a wrong tribunal finding against her for 40 years and the ripple effect that that had on her going through life has been enormous," he said.
Mr Mann recalls his first meeting with Joanne.
"One Wednesday morning going to court I was barrelling up the steps into the hallway, and somebody called me over and said there was somebody in one of the consultation rooms that wanted to talk to me," he explains.
"I just noted to myself how small and frail she was, she was so upset.... the first thing she told me was that they said they were charging her with the murder of her baby. And of course, in my head, straight away I said 'this can't be right'."
He also recalls the intense questioning of Joanne during the tribunal.
"I suppose the gardai were taking the view on the matter that what's being alleged against them was unfounded, not acceptable, and they were going to fight every legal avenue to show that they were being wronged," he says.
"One journalist referred to Joanne 'she was being torn like a ragdoll in the witness box' which was the way it was. There was no relent."
The after effects from the case have been devastating for Joanne and her family.
"That day in Dublin [in December 2020] was the elatory [sic] moment. The High Court order was agreed condemning the report, that order has since been sent to the library in the Dáil, and is placed on the tribunal report, effectively nullifying it. Sometimes right happens to get done, even after a long time.
"The one question that has, at all times, remained unsatisfactorily unanswered is, how five people - different people at the same time in the same building - made five effectively dovetailing statements confessing to a crime that science said they couldn't have committed? That question has never been properly answered."
Elsewhere in the programme, retired Detective Inspector Gerry O'Carroll - one of two detectives to personally interrogate Joanne Hayes - firmly denies any suggestion of a garda Heavy Gang or any heavy-handed methods by gardai.
"Everything was dependent on face-to-face and interrogation. Everything," he says of policing methods during the 1970s and '80s. "That is the key to the whole era. And the allegations and all that followed with it."
The Kerryman also gives some background into the questioning of suspects back then.
"We hadn't got the tools that they have today - forensic know-how and expertise. DNA was in its infancy ... It is no tea party to be interrogated for 48 hours... Face to face confession that's what it's all about. There are no confessions now."
The former detective was part of the murder squad for five years.
"The murder squad that I joined was a very, I have to say, exclusive and select unit that were picked out of all the countryside," he recalls. "The murder squad had four units.. a DI two DSs and 10 detectives, and out of that might have two or three interrogators.
"You have to understand the times [that] were in it. I was on an IRA hit-list, my life was threatened on three separate occasions."
A new investigation into the circumstances of Baby John's death has also been launched.
In September 2018 it was reported that gardai were following up on aspects of the original investigation and engaged in house-to-house inquiries on Valentia Island as "part of the general investigation".
On the morning of September 14 last year the remains of Baby John were exhumed by gardai at Holy Cross Cemetery, Caherciveen.
The baby's remains were taken to the morgue at University Hospital Kerry in Tralee for examination as part of the ongoing investigation.
No steps have been taken against any of the gardai involved in the case.
Crimes and Confessions is on RTÉ1 tomorrow at 9.30pm.
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