Monday 24 September 2018

Kerry Babies investigation: DNA hunt for clues to widen to the UK

  • DNA hunt for clues as to the identity of the parents of Kerry's 'Baby John' will be extended to the UK database
  • Gardaí now probing whether one of the parents of Baby John fled Kerry and is living in the North
  • Ireland has only 15,000 DNA samples on its database in comparison to some six million samples in the UK
  • Cross-references of Irish DNA database have so far failed to yield any matches
Whiter Strand, where Baby John's body was found
Whiter Strand, where Baby John's body was found
The grave of Kerry Baby named John in Caherciveen Co Kerry.

Ralph Riegel and Tom Brady

Gardaí are probing whether one of the parents of Baby John fled Kerry and is living in the North.

Detectives are going to extend their DNA hunt for clues to the UK's DNA database, with particular focus on Northern Ireland.

The movement of a number of people between Kerry and Northern Ireland in 1983/84 is what has prompted gardaí to examine the UK's DNA database for any potential link to the Kerry Baby investigation.

The DNA hunt for clues as to the identity of the parents of Kerry's 'Baby John' will be extended to the UK database amid concerns one or both may no longer be in Co Kerry.

The dramatic move is being considered given that Ireland has only 15,000 DNA samples on its database in comparison to some six million samples in the UK.

Cross-references of the Irish DNA database have so far failed to yield any matches to the sample taken from the baby murdered in 1984.

Detectives are aware a significant number of people moved between Kerry and Northern Ireland in the mid 1980s.

Similar movements between Kerry and the UK now make an examination of the London database potentially critical.

The grave of Kerry Baby named John in Caherciveen Co Kerry.
The grave of Kerry Baby named John in Caherciveen Co Kerry.

If Baby John's mother or father had any relatives on the DNA database for Northern Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales, it will immediately trigger a cross-referencing 'hit'.

The DNA profile was obtained from a tissue sample taken from Baby John by former State pathologist Dr John Harbison as part of the post-mortem examination in 1984.

That has undergone a battery of tests - and gardaí now have a full DNA profile of the infant that they can cross-reference with other DNA samples.

Gardaí believe the vast and detailed UK DNA database could deliver the breakthrough.

"Every avenue for the investigation is now being looked at," a senior source said.

Founded in 1995, the UK's DNA database is one of the most extensive in the world, with samples taken under far wider circumstances than is the case in Ireland, where DNA samples are only taken in a number of specific instances.

The UK database increases by between 30,000 and 40,000 samples each month - and 60pc of DNA samples obtained from a UK crime scene can now be linked to a person.

DNA sampling is now so advanced that even distant sixth and seventh cousins can be detected through various genetic 'links'.

The advantage of examining a large-scale database is that it offers an enhanced possibility of getting a DNA 'hit' on distant relatives of the individuals being sought - and allows detectives to finally focus their investigation on specific individuals.

Baby John was thought to be around five days old when he was killed.

The infant, who died by 28 stab wounds, was found by a jogger at White Strand beach, Cahersiveen, on April 14, 1984. He had also suffered a horrific spinal injury.

Kerry gardaí, under Supt Flor Murphy, said they believe the answers to the Baby John tragedy still rest within the south Kerry community.

Despite the lapse of 34 years since Baby John's murder, gardaí believe DNA will prove critical in the investigation.

"It's never the wrong time to do the right thing," Supt Murphy said.

"It just had to be done. We have a duty to investigate this.

"There's an infant stabbed to death - we just can't let that happen," he added.

However, DNA samples from people in the south Kerry area can only be obtained voluntarily unless it is in relation to someone already under arrest in connection with an alleged offence under any of six different legal provisions.

Gardaí stressed they are "exploring every opportunity" as regards cross-referencing of DNA samples under current legislation.

Ireland's DNA database regulations came into force in 2015 - almost 20 years after the UK began working to build its own DNA database.

The grave of Baby John has been the focus of attacks at Cahersiveen graveyard over the past 20 years.

The infant's grave was initially marked with a simple wooden cross, but Tom Cournane, the Kerry undertaker who first christened the infant 'Baby John', later replaced it with a black marble headstone.

It bore the inscription: "I am the Kerry Baby baptised 14-04-1984, named John, and I forgive."

In July 2004, the headstone was smashed by vandals.

When it was replaced, it no longer had the words 'I forgive'.

Irish Independent

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