Reporter Mick Peelo introduces a new RTÉ series, Crimes & Confessions, which looks at three of the most notorious miscarriages of justice cases from the 1970s and 1980s, and draws links between them - watch Crimes & Confessions here, via RTÉ Player.
After last week's episode, victims of the garda investigations into the murder of Una Lynskey in 1971 and the Sallins train robbery in 1976 are calling for a public inquiry. They want to know how these cases were handled and how some of the same Gardaí were able to continue to use the same alleged tactics to get false confessions and convictions. They believe that they won't get closure until a State inquiry establishes how it happened, why it happened and who was responsible. The Kerry Babies case brings the story to another level.
This episode is the final chapter of a story told in three parts. Again, through visual storytelling rooted in solid research, we tell a gripping real-life story of the investigation into what became known as the Kerry Babies scandal in 1984. We bring fresh insight to a story that may be familiar to many, and those who are too young to remember what happened to Joanne Hayes and her family, we bring you a shocking, fascinating and revealing narrative that you may find hard to believe happened.
After hours of intense interrogation in Tralee garda station, Joanne Hayes and her family confessed to killing and disposing of a baby that was washed up on White Strand near Caherciveen in County Kerry in 1984. Garda forensic evidence later revealed that Joanne could not have been the mother of the baby. The Hayes family made allegations of garda brutality and coerced confessions. The investigating gardaí denied these allegations. The State established a Tribunal of Inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened. Joanne Hayes claimed she was put on trial at this inquiry that was supposed to look into the behaviour of the gardaí. The country was up in arms at the way Joanne was treated and her private life exposed and judged by the inquiry. The public reaction in 1985 has echoes of the same outrage today at the misogyny that still exists in our society following the brutal murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore this month.
Judge Kevin Lynch’s findings at the Tribunal vindicated the gardaí and called Joanne and the Hayes family liars. It took over 35 years for those findings to be overturned and for the Hayes family to be finally vindicated. But, despite this and a State and garda apology to the Hayes family in 2020, the same question still remains unanswered today: how did Joanne and four of her family confess to a crime they didn’t commit?
After the Kerry Babies case the Murder Squad was disbanded. Many gardaí in that squad had worked hard to successfully bring perpetrators to justice. Not all had allegations against them. Why then was the entire unit disbanded? From State papers we can show that the Garda Commissioner at the time concluded in his report to government in 1984 that 'the investigating officers were grossly negligent in their handling’ of the Kerry babies case. Why then were many of the investigating detectives promoted afterwards? What message was that sending out to rank and file gardaí, to the public, but most of all, to the people who were wrongfully convicted because of the actions of these gardaí?
This episode has an interview with Assistant Garda Commissioner John O’Driscoll, who responds to some of the questions the series raises. But the Gardaí are not the only ones who have questions to answer. The Courts and the State had a role to play in all of this too. Had the State implemented recommendations made to it in 1978, it is highly unlikely that Joanne Hayes would have gone through what she did.
Hopefully, after watching the series Crimes and Confessions, viewers will be in a better position to answer the question that was asked of me at the very beginning: Is there any foundation for the allegations of a garda heavy gang operating in the 1970s and 80s?
Crimes & Confessions, RTÉ One, Monday 24th January at 9.35pm - catch up afterwards via RTÉ Player