Thursday 17 October 2019

Jacqueline Connolly: How the State failed my sister Clodagh Hawe and her sons

When we tried to find the truth about my sister's murder, gardai said we asked too many questions, writes Jacqueline Connolly

A FAMILY’S ORDEAL: Clodagh’s sister Jacqueline Connolly and mother Mary Coll — Photo: Steve Humphreys
A FAMILY’S ORDEAL: Clodagh’s sister Jacqueline Connolly and mother Mary Coll — Photo: Steve Humphreys

Jacqueline Connolly

Her name is Clodagh and she was murdered with her three children, Liam, Niall and Ryan, by her husband, Alan Hawe, on August 29, 2016. I am Jacqueline, her sister and with my mother, Mary, we desperately need answers to questions we have been asking for two-and-a-half years. Last month, An Garda Siochana officially denied our solicitor access to their investigation files and all we can ask is why? What are they holding back?

With the gardai refusing our reasonable request for information, we reluctantly decided to appear on Claire Byrne Live last Monday night. Clodagh was a very private person so we always felt she would not want her private life discussed, but we came to the view in recent weeks that we had no option but to speak out and ask questions.

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Mam and I are grateful to RTE for the sensitive way producer Jane Murphy and the production team dealt with us in the lead-up to the programme and to Claire, who gave us the time and space to talk about the tragedy. But as a human resources professional, I am more comfortable putting my thoughts on paper and so I want to share with you the details of how we feel the State mistreated us and has failed Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan.

The reason we have formed the view that key information is being withheld from us is because a local man told me he had made a statement to gardai in which he said he and another person saw Alan Hawe driving his car, near the school, very early on the morning of August 29. So, after Alan Hawe murdered his wife and three sons, did he leave the house to go to his place of work, Castlerahan National School, where he was vice principal, perhaps to destroy evidence?

When we asked a detective did the Gardai pursue this line of inquiry - local witnesses saying they sighted the murderer driving that morning - we were accused of interfering with a witness because we allowed a local to tell us what they saw that morning.

Last Thursday, my mother Mary told Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan: "We were the ones made to feel like criminals; the investigation officers said we were reading too much about the case in the papers and constantly asking questions." Now maybe the man who told me he saw Alan Hawe early that morning, it was a case of mistaken identity, but he sounded convinced he saw the murderer early on August 29, 2016. I believed the man when he said he gave a statement to gardai.

We much appreciate that the Minister for Justice and Equality's immediate response to hearing this was to say he would arrange a meeting with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, which was subsequently arranged for this week and to which we very much look forward - having the opportunity to enquire why has information not been shared with us.

Maybe, though I don't necessarily agree, there may be grounds not to share certain information or evidence up to the inquest but with the inquest concluded in 2017, why refuse to give us access to the files since then?

Thank you, Mr Flanagan, for meeting us so promptly and giving so much time to go through all the details.

It has been an overwhelming week and at last Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan are at the centre of the review of this case. From the beginning Clodagh and the boys didn't seem to matter, so much so, that #HerNameIsClodagh became a social media hashtag to remind people that Clodagh was murdered as were her three children.

LOVING MOTHER: Clodagh with her sons Niall, Ryan and Liam on a family holiday
LOVING MOTHER: Clodagh with her sons Niall, Ryan and Liam on a family holiday

This was confirmation that a significant section of the public was upset that the initial news coverage of the murders seemed to ignore Clodagh and the children, opting to highlight that the perpetrator of the crime was a great community man, GAA activist, and respected vice principal of the local school.

The person the media turned to most in those first few hours after the news broke was the local curate, Fr Felim Kelly, who, no doubt in shock, must have felt the correct thing to do was tell the nation that "Master Hawe" of Castlerahan National School, where Fr Kelly was on the board of management, was well regarded. Some media outlets 'eulogised' the murderer to the point of almost ignoring the murdered. And thus, the hashtag, Her Name Is Clodagh, went viral.

Alan Hawe being described as a good man on the day he murdered his wife and three children gives rise to the myth that the poor man, Alan Hawe, must have flipped, gone berserk, to commit such a heinous crime. It is too easy, in the extensive media coverage that such tragedies attract, that as the news cycle continues, the horror of what happened is conveniently explained away by stating that the poor man was suffering from a mental illness.

Suicide has sadly touched far too many families in Ireland, including our family previous to this horror. We all know that when a loved one ends their life, they must have been severely depressed. However, we should not assume depression or mental illness was the main driver in the murder of my sister Clodagh and my three nephews, Liam, Niall and Ryan.

In this case, Alan Hawe did not want to face the consequences of his actions and planned to end his own life. He was also the type of man who sees a wife and children as his property, or chattels to be disposed of as he sees fit.

Suicide as a means of avoidance was described to me by an expert criminal profiler like this: imagine you're a general in the army about to lose a war and as you are being surrounded by enemy troops and inevitably will be captured, you decide to end your life. No one would say you took your life due to mental illness. No. You took your life to avoid the consequences of your actions.

We, the family, believe that was the case with Alan Hawe and that's what he confirmed in his murder/suicide letter.

When someone murders their family and takes their own life, the technical, legal term is "family annihilation". All the international research points to the fact that there is a specific profile of an annihilator and my brother-in-law, I now know, was a perfect match.

The man (women hardly ever annihilate) will have the following characteristics. First and foremost, he will exercise coercive control over his partner and the children. Coercive control comes in many different forms and in Clodagh's case, it came in the guise of a closely bonded family but one Alan Hawe ultimately controlled entirely. Such men are complete control freaks. However, they are often socially inept, being introvert rather than extrovert. This leads them to being described as a silent type or brooding. Often, they can end up being great backroom workers in the local community.

The controlling element means they may end up running or controlling a local organisation too, in this case, the GAA club. They are often in roles like treasurer, where ultimate control rests in any organisation, and will opt out of being a chairperson.

When they do annihilate their family, neighbours are always shocked and tend to say they were great community workers. And a key characteristic is they don't seem to be able to handle any loss of face or status, and certainly over-react to the loss of their job or damage to their career prospects. A threat to their livelihood, job or career often causes them to explode in rage and commit violent murders.

Through the notes taken by his counsellor, we now know that Alan Hawe was frequently viewing pornography, suffered regular urges to masturbate and was experimenting with cross-dressing. He told his counsellor he was caught red-handed but we don't know where. However, computer forensics established that 97pc of the pornography he viewed, he did so on a laptop at work - that is, in Castlerahan School. In all likelihood, it would seem that if he stated he was caught red-handed and "it was all going to blow up", the most likely place was the school.

Before the end of the school year in late spring 2016, Alan Hawe was in contact with the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO). Again, we understand that it was to do with a disciplinary matter or a grievance, but last week the INTO issued a press statement flatly refusing to reveal what it was about, citing all such matters are confidential.

Clodagh was a teacher too. Mam and I would not be human if we didn't start to wonder why the INTO is refusing to help the mother and sister of one of its members. We just want to know what his enquiry was about. Alan Hawe is dead so who is the confidentiality protecting?

I said at the outset, we believe we were mistreated by the State and it has failed Clodagh and the boys. Alan Hawe feared the re-opening of the school and the consequences of his actions that would bring shame on him and his family. On the day it did re-open after the summer in 2016, August 29, he had meticulously planned not just to take his own life but to kill his wife first and then his children.

I am not going to go into the gruesome detail of the murders; it is enough to say his murder weapons were an axe and two knives. The murder scene was so bad that at the inquest, the coroner took a short recess to allow the garda who gave the evidence about little six-year-old Ryan's murder to recover from the trauma of telling the horror of how he had died.

Imagine what it was like for Mam and I coming to terms with what had happened that morning? Most will remember from the news reporting at the time that when Clodagh did not turn up at Mam's house, Mam started phoning and texting and, fearing there was a problem, drove the five miles to the house. She was met by a note on the back door warning: "Do not come in. Call the Gardai."

Mam called the gardai. She did not know that just inside the house there was a murder/suicide letter Alan Hawe had written. For some reason, we never got a copy of that letter for 16 months. You ask yourself why on earth did this happen? You get gruesome details fed to you through the media over weeks and months and all the while, a five-page letter is sitting in a filing cabinet in the Garda station.

Why were we so disregarded? On reflection, we had thought the crime scene was so bad that gardai perhaps thought they were sparing us by not telling us anything except "there are five bodies in the house" - that is how the news was broken to Mam. But not having the full information led to us making a very big mistake.

In the stupor of our grieving, literally within hours of trying to come to terms with our loss, without thinking, we agreed to all the family being buried together.

It was only on our first visit to the graves, the day after the interment, that we became aware of how wrong it was that the murderer was buried with his victims. We felt we couldn't "talk" to Clodagh because "he" was there.

Social media can be so cruel. The online keyboard warriors relentlessly attacked us over the decision for weeks - weeks when we were at our lowest and in the darkest place imaginable.

Of course, when we tried to have the body exhumed, we learned, as we did on so many occasions later, that we, Clodagh's next of kin, had no rights. It would be the Hawe family that would have the ultimate say whether there would or would not be an exhumation.

We also would find out that under the Succession Act 1965, the Hawe family alone are entitled to all the proceeds of the estate.

Mam and I had to quietly work alone to have the murderer removed from the family plot. It took over nine long months. To those of you who attacked us on social media over our decision to bury all the family together, all I can say is, if your intention was to wound us, you did, deeply, but we forgive you.

All I can ask is that in future, you might try to realise that behind all the harrowing headlines and trending tragedies, there are real people just trying to cope, minute to minute and hour to hour.

Last Thursday at our meeting with Minister Flanagan, we discussed the Succession Act 1965 and how it must be reformed as soon as possible so that murderers, or their family if they end their own life, do not financially benefit from their crime. Last week I also spoke with Jim O'Callaghan, Fianna Fail Justice spokesperson, who said it must be a priority to change this law. Let's get this law changed immediately; it won't be retrospective so it won't solve our problem. Please, please stop financially rewarding the perpetrators of femicide and familicide.

At the inquest, we learned that after murdering Clodagh, and before murdering the boys, Alan Hawe transferred funds and arranged his affairs so his family would be the sole financial beneficiaries of his estate.

Please do not add insult to our injury, loss and grieving, thinking we want money; but trying to get answers to our questions, plus the expenses for the funerals and legal costs we had for the inquest, have all added up to more than €50,000 - bills my mother, retired, and I, a widow, are struggling to pay.

Finally, though we were served well by our Garda Liaison Officer, who spent incalculable hours with us, we got the sense from the investigation team that their thinking seemed to be, Alan Hawe is dead, as are the people he murdered, so what is the point in uncovering possible information that may impact on others and possibly ruin their lives?

Our response to this is that we as citizens have a duty of care when we take on roles in various professional or religious capacities and those of us who do, need to take responsibility for the decisions we make in those capacities and the actions we take that may impact severely on other people.

Nobody could ever have foreseen what Alan Hawe would do that night, absolutely nobody. However, prevention is the key.

We are now a tiny family, with my Mam and me and my little boy, but we hope to make a difference in this country to protect women and children, and let us not forget the men, who are also suffering through coercive control.

We feel that there should be zero tolerance to domestic abuse in any way, shape or form. Just because it is hidden, silent and difficult to reason the burden of proof, that does not mean it is acceptable, because lives matter and ultimately it can end in what was - in the case of our family - the most horrific last act of control.

Anyone affected by issues in this story can contact: Samaritans on 116 123; Pieta House on 1800 247 247; Childline on 1800 66 66 66, or text "support" to 50101; Women's Aid on 1800 341 900

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