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Fr Niall Molloy was beaten days before his murder

GARDAI are exploring several new lines of enquiry about murdered priest Fr Niall Molloy, including a number of assaults in the weeks leading up to his death.

The move comes as a team of detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation sift through new information on the 1985 killing, which was given to them by this newspaper.

The 10 detectives were put

on the case full-time by Commissioner Martin Callinan, on foot of our two-year probe.

The priest's body was found in the master bedroom of the home of his close friends, Richard and Teresa Flynn.

Martin Molloy, a cousin of the 52-year-old curate who was beaten to death in Clara, Co Offaly, told how the cleric had a black eye shortly before he died. When Mr Molloy asked his cousin how the bruising happened, the priest identified the perpetrator and said “he wasn't a very nice person”.

And in recent days, a new witness unearthed by this newspaper has told officers of another assault on the priest – three days before his death and by the same individual.

This information was given to him by a person who was in the house on the night of the killing. He said the priest was thrown against a coffee table and suffered bruising to his limbs on the Thursday before he died.

These injuries came to light in the original post-mortem, but how they occurred has never been explained until now.

It has also emerged that the initial attack took place in the downstairs of the house, but that the priest's body was placed in the master bedroom.

Blood on the banister, which the gardai failed to identify in the initial investigation, is also being analysed.

Officers are also in possession of new medical evidence, which shows Fr Molloy's life could have been saved if he had been taken to hospital after the initial attack.

In separate lab studies, three pathologists have analysed tissue from the priest's brain, which indisputably shows he was left for up to six hours before the gardai were called.

Fr Molloy's body bore no defensive or offensive marks at the time of death, an indication that he did not have a chance to fight off his killer.

Pathologists also believe the frenzied nature of the killing suggests more than one individual was involved.

Fr Molloy sustained at least five injuries to the head, internal bleeding in the kidney, and injuries to the groin and collar bone.

Last night, an officer said they were making steady progress on the case and were satisfied with their ongoing enquiries.