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Monday 24 July 2017

Gardai find no cover-up in 1970 murder of girl

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

A GARDA review of the investigation into the murder of 10-year-old Bernadette Connolly 40 years ago has found no evidence of a cover-up.

The child was murdered and her body dumped in a bog in Collooney, Co Sligo, in 1970 -- but 40 years on the killing remains unsolved.

The latest review was prompted by concerns that detectives had been hampered in their original investigation because the suspects included a priest who is now dead.

But the review has now concluded that there was no evidence that the murder investigation was "impeded or inhibited in any way".

The findings were disclosed by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern in response to a parliamentary question from Alan Shatter, the Fine Gael TD who had previously alleged that the original garda file was shown to a senior member of the Catholic Church.

Bernadette's family was briefed on the latest review at a meeting with gardai in September. Her sister, Kerrie Aldridge, said this weekend that it was too painful for the family to comment further.

On April 17, 1970, Bernadette set off on her bike at around 4pm to collect groceries from a neighbour's house less than two miles away, but she never arrived. Her bicycle was found abandoned in a ditch two miles from her home. It was almost four months before her partially clothed body was found 15 miles away in a bog. It was suspected that she had been sexually assaulted.

A green Ford Escort van owned by the Passionist monastery was seen driving in the area on the evening of Bernadette's disappearance. But no one in the monastery could account for the vehicle's movements, even though all gave statements and their fingerprints to gardai.

A priest attached to the monastery, who moved in with the family ostensibly to console them in the weeks after Bernadette's disappearance, was transferred to Africa before her body was found.

The case came to prominence again after the publication of the Murphy Report on clerical sex abuse in December last year. That report found that the Catholic hierarchy had covered up for paedophile priests and highlighted several instances where gardai had allegedly colluded with the church to protect abusers.

The Connolly family's interview with the late Gerry Ryan revived huge public interest in the case.

Mr Shatter alleged in the Dail that Bernadette's murder had not been comprehensively investigated and that a copy of the garda file was given to a senior member of the Catholic Church.

The family was promised a full and comprehensive review of the case by Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny in December of last year.

In his reply to the parliamentary question, Mr Ahern said: "This review has been completed and the review team has found no evidence to support the view that the original investigation was inhibited or impeded in any way.

"A comprehensive meeting was held with members of the person's family in September, 2010, during which their concerns surrounding the investigation were addressed."

In previous interviews, Bernadette's sisters, Kerrie, Patricia and Ann, spoke of how their parents, Gerry and Maureen, never recovered from the ordeal and died not knowing who had murdered their child.

Sunday Independent

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