Thursday 18 December 2014

Bailed twice, taxi driver's attacker was free to kill

Mary Lynch survived but Sylvia Roche-Kelly was lured to death

Published 23/02/2014 | 02:30

Mary Lynch today. Photo: David Conachy
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE: Mary Lynch today much recovered since those dark days. Picture: David Conachy.
Jerry McGrath
Sylvia Roche Kelly
Injuries suffered by Mary Lynch
Injuries suffered by Mary Lynch
Injuries suffered by Mary Lynch

THE multiple bruises on Mary Lynch's face and body and the vivid teeth marks from a bite that drew blood were still raw when she went to Bailieboro garda station to make her statement.

Mary Lynch felt lucky to be alive. The Kells-based taxi driver believed, and still believes, that she had escaped death by rape and murder by a stranger.

Her attacker had his zip undone as he rained blows about her head and face and kicked her repeatedly in the stomach. He pulled clunks of hair from her head and had his hands on her throat.

So less than 11 hours after the attack on April 30, 2007, she went to the garda station with her husband George to make her statement.

Her attacker, Jerry McGrath, from Dundrum in Co Tipperary, was already a free man. Just €300 station bail paid by a relative had secured his release that morning after he had been charged under Section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the State Act – effectively an assault charge.

He was already on his way back to his native Tipperary as Mary Lynch made her statement, excerpts of which are published here today.

In her statement, she recounted: "When he took the keys out, he started pulling my hair and telling me to get out of the car. He said, 'get the fuck out of this car.' I knew if he could get me out of the car I was in very bad danger. He pulled lumps of hair out of my head."

Mary Lynch was appalled when gardai told her McGrath had already been released. She was fearful he would hunt her down. She knew in her heart that he was very dangerous.

Garda sources say this type of processing, where an alleged perpetrator is released even before a statement is taken, is relatively routine.

However, subsequent events proved Mary Lynch's fearfulness and deep unease to be well founded.

Six months later, as the investigation into Mary's case dragged on, with her assailant still out on station bail, there was another sinister incident.

At about 3.30am on October 9, a family man in Dundrum was shaken from his sleep by sounds from downstairs. He went to investigate.

In the kitchen, he found his five-year-old daughter in the clutches of Jerry McGrath.

McGrath had one hand on the child's throat and the other clasped over her mouth. A violent struggled ensued. The family man rescued his daughter and overpowered McGrath. He held McGrath down as he awaited the arrival of gardai.

The family remains traumatised to this day.

McGrath was charged with assault causing harm, burglary and false imprisonment and was held in Limerick Prison.

He was still in the jail on October 18 – nine days after the incident in Dundrum – when the case involving Mary Lynch came up at Virginia District Court for a routine renewal of the station bail granted to him in Bailieboro garda station back in April.

Despite the fact that McGrath was in Limerick Prison in relation to the Dundrum false imprisonment case involving the five-year-old girl, there was no objection to the station bail being renewed.

And 12 days after that fateful decision, McGrath was in a different court in a different province, again seeking bail.

He made the application in Clonmel District Court in relation to the charge of false imprisonment of the young girl in Dundrum. This time, gardai had strenuous objections. Detective Sergeant John Long stated bluntly that the force had serious concerns. Nevertheless, the court granted bail.

Crucially, in coming to that decision, the court was dealing with the Dundrum incident in isolation. It was not told about the serious allegations against McGrath in Cavan.

In a subsequent investigation, Det Sgt Long said he had checked the Pulse garda computer system, saw that McGrath was involved in a case in the border county and made enquiries.

He said he was told by an unidentified garda in Co Cavan that the case involved a minor assault over a taxi fare. The Virginia case was not mentioned at the bail hearing in Clonmel one way or the other.

So McGrath was now out on bail on the double – first of all in relation to the assault in Virginia and secondly in relation to the incident involving breaking and entering and the false imprisonment of the child snatched from her bed in Co Tipperary.

McGrath's freedom was to cost Sylvia Roche-Kelly her life.

A little over a month after he went back on the streets, McGrath was in Limerick city on December 7, where he met Sylvia, a separated mother of two. She accompanied him back to his hotel room in the Clarion Hotel in the city.

Hotel staff discovered her body face down in the bath the following day.

McGrath had fatally assaulted her in a way which was eerily similar to his assault on Mary Lynch. McGrath, who was quickly arrested, told detectives he had hit Ms Roche-Kelly in the face, pulled her hair and put his hands around her neck.

Mary Lynch was shocked when she heard about the murder of Ms Roche-Kelly and complained bitterly to gardai.

The following month, on Monday, January 7, 2008, her case was due for hearing at Virginia District Court.

But on January 5 she received a phone call from the gardai. She was told there was no need for her to attend as the case would be "held over".

Then, on the afternoon of January 7, she received a phone call from a garda inspector, who told her that Jerry McGrath had been sentenced to nine months for the assault on her.

Mary Lynch was astonished and angry. She had wanted to give a victim impact statement. She wanted to tell the court how serious the assault had been on her, how she had feared for her life.

The case merited just a few paragraphs in the Anglo-Celt, a provincial paper noted for the comprehensiveness of its court coverage.

The report stated: "A Tipperary man who assaulted a woman taxi driver and made off without paying a €32 fare was sentenced to nine months in jail at Virginia District Court by Judge Sean McBride."

The judge said he felt that like the gardai, taxi drivers needed to be afforded the protection of the courts because of the type of work they did. He said he intended to protect such innocent victims from assaults and his sentencing policy would reflect this.

"Gerry (sic) McGrath, 23, of Ballywalter, Knockavilla, Tipperary, was sentenced to nine months in Castlerea Prison when convicted on a charge alleging that he assaulted Mary Lynch, causing her harm at Corragloon, Mullagh Co Cavan on April 30, 2007. He was also given a concurrent nine months for making off and not paying the €32 taxi fare."

The brevity of the report suggests that the case against McGrath was done and dusted in moments.

Mary Lynch told the Sunday Independent this weekend: "Where I live is just 15 minutes from that court. I could have been there at any time if they decided, 'Oh we are going to go ahead with that case.'

"All they they had to do was ring me up. I would have been there in 15 minutes flat. So I cannot understand why they didn't ring me."

In January 2009, McGrath received a life sentence for the murder of Sylvia Roche-Kelly in Limerick. Four weeks later, he received a 10-year sentence for the robbery and false imprisonment of the five-year-old child in Dundrum.

Lorcan Roche Kelly, Sylvia's widower, made a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman.

After a lengthy investigation, the Garda Ombudsman recommended that minor disciplinary action be taken against two gardai. The Garda Commissioner has so far decided not to invoke those disciplinary actions against either of the officers.

Sunday Independent

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