Friday 24 November 2017

Gardai re-open case into 40-year-old murder of schoolgirl

Sisters Kerrie Aldridge, Patricia Connolly and Ann Guilfoyle outside Carrick-on-Shannon Garda
Station yesterday where they met with senior gardai to discuss their sister Bernadette Connolly who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1970 in Collooney, Co Sligo
Sisters Kerrie Aldridge, Patricia Connolly and Ann Guilfoyle outside Carrick-on-Shannon Garda Station yesterday where they met with senior gardai to discuss their sister Bernadette Connolly who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1970 in Collooney, Co Sligo

THE family of a schoolgirl who was murdered almost 40 years ago yesterday welcomed the announcement by the Garda Commissioner that her case is to be reviewed.

Bernadette Connolly was 10 years old when she disappeared close to her home near Collooney, Co Sligo on April 17, 1970. Her body was found four months later in a shallow grave in a bog near Boyle. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy announced the appointment of Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny to re-examine the file into the unsolved case.

The victim's sister, Kerri Aldridge, described it as "a step in the right direction".

"It is coming on 40 years and we need some sort of closure and some sort of justice for Bernie. To us, she was never a case. She was our family member," Ms Aldridge said.

The murder returned to the spotlight following the publication of the Murphy report, after members of the Connolly family expressed concerns that gardai may have been stopped from fully investigating a priest who is believed to have been the chief suspect in the case.

The Passionist priest, who was based at what was then Cloonmahon Monastery near where Bernadette disappeared, was never arrested in connection with the disappearance and relocated to Africa shortly afterwards. He has since died.

The family had called on gardai to disclose whether there had been any interference in the investigation from the Church hierarchy.

At a meeting yesterday in Carrick-on-Shannon, the family outlined their concerns to Detective Inspector John O'Reilly who will pass them on the Garda Commissioner.

Ms Aldridge said they had raised the issue about the priest and asked whether gardai had been "blocked" from arresting him.

Evidence

They had also asked about the whereabouts of the material evidence such as Bernie's bicycle and clothing and whether there could be DNA analysis conducted at this stage.

"We said we wanted the evidence found and re-investigated. We were told that all our questions would be brought back to the commissioner. We feel we are finally getting somewhere," said Ms Aldridge.

She added that the past two weeks had been overwhelming for the family, as the whole tragedy had been brought to the forefront of their lives once more.

Assistant Commissioner Kenny will re-examine the file, including previous statements that were taken and will meet with the Connolly family.

Bernadette's disappearance shocked the country, prompting one of the biggest-ever searches for a missing person.

A distinctive green van from the Passionist monastery had been seen in the area at the time and a local garage owner had told gardai that he had filled it with petrol on the evening of the murder.

A senior detective on the case later told a journalist that he had been instructed to re-open the file and bring a particular priest in for questioning.

The night before the arranged interview he claimed he was told to "forget about it".

Irish Independent

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