Thursday 18 July 2019

1985 State Papers: Echoes of a miscarriage of justice that finally ended in a pardon – 75 years late


Harry Gleeson. Photo: Courtesy Tom Gleeson, taken from The Framing of Harry Gleeson by Kieran Fagan, published by The Collins Press, 2015
Harry Gleeson. Photo: Courtesy Tom Gleeson, taken from The Framing of Harry Gleeson by Kieran Fagan, published by The Collins Press, 2015

Ralph Riegel and Chris Parkin

A miscarriage of justice in which a man was hanged features in state papers made available under the 30 years rule. Harry Gleeson was hanged after being convicted of the 1940 murder of Mary 'Moll' McCarthy in the Co Tipperary townland of Marlhill.

Gleeson, an unmarried 38-year-old farmer, discovered the body of Ms McCarthy, who was known to have turned to prostitution, in a field and reported his grisly find to gardaí.

The victim was later found to have died from a shotgun blast. A second shot had been directed at her face from short range.

Gleeson was declared guilty after being found to have lied by saying he had not recognised the victim of the brutal killing. But there were allegations of both the tampering of evidence and hostility on the part of the court towards the accused man.

A recent book about the affair claimed that the real killer was another local man, who had the backing of a group of neighbours with IRA links, some of whom were motivated by the need to keep secret their sexual activities.

It was believed that some people living in the area knew Gleeson could not be guilty of the crime, yet remained silent.

And, crucially, earlier this year, after re-examination of the case, Gleeson - described as "the most unfortunate man in Ireland" back in the 1940s - was finally pardoned by the State.

Ironically, the newly released papers, concentrate largely on wrangling between the court authorities and lawyers and expert witnesses over the payments they reckoned were due to them for their involvement in the Gleeson trial.

A junior member of the defence team was the up-and-coming barrister Seán MacBride, a one-time IRA chief of staff who went on to become the external affairs minister as Clann na Poblachta leader and a Nobel Peace prize laureate.

Among those to submit invoices to the then finance minister was architect and civil engineer P J Munden, whose original claim for the sum of £68 and two shillings was cut back to £63 and 18 shillings.

The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland maintained that the original bill was "not excessive."

The account submitted by Mr Munden included a £12 and 12 shillings fee for surveying parts of the Gleeson farm and a total of £4 and four shillings for "attending several consultations at counsel's chambers" with Seán MacBride and other members of the defence's legal team.

The architect afterwards accepted the payment on offer but made it clear through his solicitor that he was "exceedingly disappointed".

Overall, even allowing for the fact that the legal proceedings related to date back three-quarters of a century, the fees quoted bear little resemblance to present-day legal costs.

Mr Munden was allowed a daily court attendance payment of just £4 and four shillings.

A further claim came from surgeon P J Flood, who claimed for a total of £64 and nine shillings after being subpoenaed to give evidence over a period of days.

And yet another court document, reported that the sum of £200 had "been raised and was available" to finance the subsequently unsuccessful appeal against the original conviction.

But the bill of costs for the appeal added up to £244, 12 shillings and six pence.

Just a week before Christmas this year, President Michael D Higgins signed a posthumous pardon for Mr Gleeson.

His family said it had been his last wish that his innocence would one day be recognised.

Irish Independent

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