Monday 5 December 2016

Man tries to clear his name over 1971 killing of teenager

Published 28/04/2010 | 05:00

UNA Lynskey was just 19 years old and working in the Land Commission when she disappeared one dark Tuesday evening in October 1971.

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She had taken the bus home to Porterstown Lane, Co Meath, accompanied by her cousin Ann Gaughan, but vanished at some point on the 15-minute walk between the bus stop and her home.

Two months later, on December 10, her body turned up, buried under furze in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains in Glendough, near Rathfarnham. A post-mortem failed to reveal the cause of her death.

Yesterday, some 39 years later, the dusty boxes of typewritten files on her mysterious death were reopened as Martin Conmey -- her convicted killer -- returned to court in an attempt to clear his name of manslaughter for once and for all. Conmey spent three years in prison for the offence.

Ignominiously, it emerged the files on this case had turned up in 2002 in the ladies' lavatory of Drogheda garda station.

At many points during the day's hearing, presiding Judge Adrian Hardiman had to sagely remind the court that times have changed.

Many questions hang over Conmey's original conviction, according to his barrister Hugh Hartnett, who told the Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday that his client had always protested his innocence.

This case has been some time coming -- the original papers for the appeal were lodged a decade ago.

Sombre

Conmey's face was tense and sombre as he sat with his family; the anxious sisters of Ms Lynskey in the opposite bench. In many ways, time has stood still for them all.

Now 59, Conmey was just 20 years old and working as a farm labourer when he, along with two other men, was charged in relation to causing Ms Lynskey's death.

One of the men, Dick Donnelly, successfully appealed. Another, Martin Kerrigan, never lived to see his trial -- a week after Ms Lynskey's body was found, his own body turned up in the same spot, having been attacked and killed by Ms Lynskey's brothers John and James and cousin John Gaughan, who were later dealt with by the courts.

Yesterday, Mr Hartnett told the court that the death of Ms Lynskey had been investigated by the then Garda Technical Bureau -- not like their modern-day equivalent in that they were not technical experts, but specialised in interrogation.

He said there was "no getting away from the fact" that considerable controversy erupted over their investigation techniques over the next 15 to 16 years.

Mr Hartnett said there were "newly discovered facts" in his client's case, including the existence of a total of 10 contradictory statements from key witnesses and a previously unknown allegation of violence and "oppression" by gardai against one of these.

These statements were not made available to defence lawyers at the time of the trial but became "keystones" of the prosecution's case.

Mr Hartnett said his client's manslaughter conviction had "deeply affected him" and he suffered from depression.

Conmey spent 45 hours in "voluntarily detention" at a garda station as part of the investigation, and alleges he was assaulted. He said in court he was forced to sign a confession dictated to him by interviewing officers.

Former Attorney General Harry Whelehan, involved in the case as a young barrister, took to the witness box to give an account of this "tragic" case, explaining that he had acted on behalf of Mr Kerrigan and successfully sought his release from garda custody. This was a "bitter sweet victory" as Mr Kerrigan was abducted and killed.

He told the court that he was "as certain as one can be" that defence lawyers for Conmey were not furnished with a series of statements from three important witnesses at the trial.

If they had, it could have opened up new lines of inquiry, he agreed with Michael O'Higgins, for Conmey.

The hearing continues.

Irish Independent

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