Nash's crime scenes were two of most horrific encountered by gardai
Jim Cusack reports on the fallout from the Garda wrongly charging Dean Lyons with the murders of Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callinan
Mark Nash left two of the most horrific crime scenes, both double murders, that gardai have encountered.
On the night of August 15, 1997, he stabbed Carl Doyle four times in the chest as Doyle sat dozing on a sofa in his Roscommon home. Three of the stab wounds went right through the 29-year-old Doyle's body, and he died almost instantly.
Nash then beat and partially strangled Doyle's 28-year-old wife, Catherine, in the upstairs of the house where she was preparing sleeping arrangements for Nash, who was visiting with her sister Sarah Jane.
The Doyles had four young children, asleep at the time. Sarah Jane's daughter and Nash's daughter from a separate relationship were asleep downstairs.
During the night, the four adults drank spirits and Nash and Carl Doyle smoked cannabis.
After stabbing Carl Doyle, Nash went upstairs and struck Sarah Jane on the head with a metal stove handle, rendering her partially unconscious. He also struck and tried to strangle her sister Catherine.
As Sarah Jane collapsed, Catherine attempted to escape, fleeing downstairs and into the kitchen, where she sat with her back to the door in an effort to escape Nash's pursuit.
In a scene straight out of a horror movie, Nash drove a butcher's boning knife, one of two he brought to the house, through the wooden door and into Catherine's back. She was found by gardai the next morning with 16 knife wounds to her body. She had bled to death.
Five months earlier, in the early hours of March 7, Nash broke into the sheltered home of three residents of Grangegorman psychiatric institution at No 1, Orchard View. He collected an assortment of knives and a carving fork from the kitchen and went upstairs to a bedroom where 59-year-old Sylvia Sheils was asleep. He stabbed and slashed Ms Sheils in a frenzy.
With the same weapons he then went into 60-year-old Mary Callinan's bedroom and repeated the frenzied attack.
The inquest was carried out by then State Pathologist John Harbison. He could not discount the possibility that there was a cannibalistic element to the murders, as parts of flesh from both bodies could not be fully accounted for.
What happened between the two sets of murders was an inglorious episode in the history of the Garda, and was to have historic implications for the conduct of suspect interviews and the acceptance by courts of admissions of guilt in Garda custody.
A team of investigators based in the Bridewell Garda Station arrested and charged Dean Lyons, a 24-year-old heroin addict, on July 26. On the basis of an 'admission', taken in a closed room and not videotaped or sound recorded, Lyons was charged with the single murder of Mary Callinan.
Mark Nash, the most dangerous man alive in Ireland at the time, remained free to commit the further two murders, orphaning the four young Doyle children.
After Nash was eventually overwhelmed and arrested by gardai as he tried to flee on foot from the Roscommon murder scene, he made repeated confessions - to gardai in the car taking him to Mill Street Garda Station in Galway, to a solicitor appointed to represent him and in further considerable detail to detectives Pat Lynagh, who has since died, and is remembered as "probably the best detective sergeant in the country at the time" and his colleague, then Det Garda Gerry Dillon, who gave evidence in Nash's trial.
Dillon and Lynagh persuaded Nash to make sketches of the interior of the Orchard View house and even of the sole of the pair of boots he was wearing on the night of the Callinan/Sheils murders, evidence that was key to securing his conviction.
News of Nash's arrest and admissions caused consternation back in Dublin, where senior gardai maintained a position - later recorded in the inquiry and 2006 report by then senior counsel and now appeal court judge George Birmingham on the wrongful charging of Mr Lyons - that they had the 'right man' and Nash had nothing to do with Grangegorman.
Mr Birmingham's report followed the Garda internal inquiry conducted by then Assistant Commissioner Jim McHugh, Detective Superintendent Martin Callinan and Detective Inspector (now Assistant Commissioner) Derek Byrne. It was Derek Byrne's decision to re-submit the jacket Nash wore on the night of the Grangegorman murders that precipitated the breakthrough in the case and the charging of Nash after low-count DNA analysis enabled the discovery of the victims' bloodstains.
The 396-page report by Judge Birmingham paints a detailed picture of the events surrounding Mr Lyons's wrongful prosecution. Few officers in the Bridewell station on that occasion emerge with credit.Then Det Garda Dominic Cox told a conference in the station that it was his view that Lyons was a "Walter Mitty type" and "was learning as much from us as we are from him". Sergeant Matt Mulhall, who was responsible for drawing up the book of evidence, expressed similar reservations, as did Detective Alan Bailey. All were ignored.
The 2006 Birmingham report notes that the gardai's reservations were dismissed as "undermining the investigation" and the charging of Mr Lyons went ahead.
Despite recent claims to the contrary, Mr Birmingham did not find that any other officers contemporaneously objected to Mr Lyons being charged.
Even Nash's arrest did not stop the Bridewell team from pursuing their innocent man. Two months after his arrest and admissions, in October 1997, they submitted a large file recommending that Mr Lyons be also charged with the murder of Sylvia Sheils (the Mary Callinan murder charge being by way of what was known as a 'holding' charge).
The requirement for the Director of Public Prosecutions to pursue the Sylvia Sheils file further delayed the withdrawal of the initial charge against Mr Lyons and led to the postponement of his release from custody until the following February.
Lyons, an injecting heroin addict from a very good family background in Tallaght, was freed with little support or acknowledgement of the wrong done to him. He eventually felt so hard pressed he moved to Manchester, where in September 2000 he died from an overdose.
The internal Garda inquiry under Assistant Commissioner McHugh was completed in September 1999 and contained a recommendation that effectively ended the acceptance of unrecorded admissions in Garda custody.
His recommendation, which still stands, was: "That interviews of all prisoners in respect of offences which carry a penalty of five years imprisonment or more are to be conducted on video/audio. A sentence of five years is the threshold sentence which permits the detention of a suspect under the Criminal Justice Act 1984. b) That any indication/suspicion of 'psychological vulnerability' or mental deficiency be brought to the notice of the DPP prior to preferral of criminal charges. c) That in the absence of independent corroboration of admissions made, the preferral of criminal charges should be deferred until the completed file has been submitted to the office of the DPP."
This recommendation was a de facto admission that the events in the Bridewell Garda Station were of such import that gardai would in future not bring charges in relation to serious offences based on 'admissions' made in private.
From that point, video and audio recording equipment was installed in all main garda stations and no one has been charged since on the basis of unrecorded admissions.
Assistant Commissioner Jim McHugh, a man known to be of the utmost probity as well as a seasoned detective, had to hold his ground against strong opposition from officers of senior rank who continued to insist on Mr Lyons's guilt.
The October 1997 completed file from the Bridewell station on Mr Lyons by then Chief Superintendent (and subsequently Assistant Commissioner) Richard Kelly, who has since died, stated: "There is, I contend, a prima facie case established to justify the charging of Dean Lyons with the murder of Mary Callinan. It is recommended that a further charge of murder should be preferred against Dean Lyons in relation to the death of Sylvia Sheils."
As well as promoting the further charging of Dean Lyons, the 'Bridewell team', as Mr Birmingham reported, engaged in "briefing and counter briefing", leading to media reports insisting on Mr Lyons's guilt - something that was in contempt of any prospective court proceedings.
Throughout the 18 years since the murders of Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callinan, Mark Nash has tried every trick in the book to secure his release on the basis of Mr Lyons's 'admissions' and to be repatriated to a prison in England, where he grew up, hoping for an early release there.
Nash is the only convicted prisoner in the State who meets the 'serial murderer' qualification of three or more killings. He will spend the rest of his able-bodied existence in prison.