Kerry Babies: Solicitor of couple questioned over death of Baby John says they are ‘totally innocent”
Man in his 60s and woman in her 50s were both held at separate garda stations for questioning DNA lead to couple ‘who are both parents of Baby John’
A solicitor representing two people arrested on suspicion of murder in the Kerry Babies case has said he is concerned “people are jumping to conclusions” just because his clients have been arrested.
DNA analysis indicating that a couple were the parents of murdered Baby John led gardaí to make two arrests in the decades-old Kerry Babies case.
The man and woman were held in separate garda stations in Kerry yesterday as they were being quizzed about the newborn’s murder in 1984.
The woman was released without charge yesterday evening while, early this morning, Saturday, the man in his 60s, was released without charge. It is understood they are a couple, who have a number of adult children.
Files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the arrest and it will be up to the office of the DPP as to whether the pair will face criminal charges.
Pádraig O’Connell is a Kerry solicitor representing the couple and said they completely maintain their innocence.
"My concern is that, effectively, people are jumping to conclusions, that because somebody's arrested, that they're automatically in the frame for a very heinous crime. That is not so they are totally innocent. They must be presumed innocent.
"They have constitution natural justice protections, and due process must be undergone. So as I'm concerned, they're totally innocent. They proclaim their innocence. And they've made absolutely no admissions whatsoever of criminality,” Mr O’Connell told RTÉ’s Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin.
Given the high-profile nature of the case, Mr O’Connell said he was concerned that some of the coverage of the arrests is prejudicial.
"I'm concerned that it's prejudicial. And I'm concerned it's based on lack of knowledge, lack of insight, and lack of absolute respect for somebody who was brought in to a garda station.
"I'm merely making the comments in the context of my client's innocence, their serious protestations of innocence when they were held in two different garda stations for the maximum period that they could be held for and were the subject of intense interrogation during that time, and have control at the other end with their reputations absolutely intact,” Mr O’Connell said.
The solicitor said his clients are “ordinary, decent, hardworking people who are pillars of the community. Why should they be prejudiced by comment?
"My difficulty is with the fact that they were arrested for the allegation of murder, and they've now been released without charge and that justifies absolutely nothing, from the State point of view. If they’re subsequently charged, that's a different matter entirely, but in the meantime, they're entitled to the presumption of innocence, and they're entitled to all the protections that go with us.
"I don't believe that it should be in the public domain that somebody's been arrested on a suspicion of murder,” Mr O’Connell said.
Sources have stressed that detectives are still attempting to establish the full circumstances surrounding the murder of Baby John, and to determine who was involved in the infant’s death.
“There should be no rush to judgment in this case. The facts around what happened are still being determined,” a source said.
In recent years gardaí have gathered hundreds of DNA samples which were provided voluntarily in the region.
A breakthrough in the case came after a sample provided to gardaí matched the new sample taken from Baby John after his remains were exhumed in 2021.
The match resulted in a couple being identified as the probable biological parents of the infant, leading to their arrests on Thursday.
It is understood that further DNA testing is being carried out – although gardaí believe the analysis which led to the couple being detained is of “high quality”.
The man and woman had not come to adverse garda attention before being arrested in relation to the Baby John case.
Detectives from the Garda Serious Crime Review Team are helping local gardaí with the investigation.
Baby John was found with multiple injuries at White Strand, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, almost 40 years ago in April 1984.
The subsequent bungled investigation eventually led to a state apology and compensation for local woman Joanne Hayes, who had also given birth to a baby who died around the same time.
Superintendent Flor Murphy this week described the arrests of the two people as “a significant development” in an “effort to establish the truth surrounding the death of Baby John” and deliver him justice.
Justice Minister Simon Harris said the news was “extraordinarily traumatic and painful for the people in Kerry, for people across the country.
“We’ve got to remember here, the most innocent of people, an innocent baby, was found murdered on a beach.
“No matter how long ago it was or how different an Ireland it may have been.
“Every person in Ireland, young or old, has the right to truth and justice. And I know the gardaí have been working extraordinarily hard on this, particularly since a renewed effort in 2018.
“And anybody who has any information no matter how small – that could be extremely helpful.”
The woman wrongly implicated in the case, Joanne Hayes, was from Abbeydorney which is about 80km away.
She was arrested and charged after Baby John’s body was found in 1984, but the charge was later dropped and a tribunal of inquiry was set up to investigate the handling of her case.
She had repeatedly insisted she had no connection to the child, and DNA tests in 2018 subsequently proved this to be the case.
In 2018, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, then Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and An Garda Síochána apologised to Ms Hayes.
Mr Varadkar said Joanne Hayes “evidently is a woman who was very badly treated by our State and our society in a way that so many other women have in the past”.
The Taoiseach said that while he was aware of the case, he wasn’t fully conscious of the details until recent developments.
“It’s been eye-opening for me to learn about that in the last couple of days. It reflects the extent to which Ireland was such a different place in the 1980s to what it is now,” he said at the time.
“I absolutely want to reiterate the apology that gardaí have made to Joanne Hayes. And also to make that apology on behalf of the State.”
Asked whether Ms Hayes should be paid compensation for her ordeal, he replied: “I can’t offer compensation here and now, but I think it’s something we can discuss with her representatives in the period ahead.“
In 2020 she received an apology from the State as part of a €2.5m settlement. At the time, Ms Hayes expressed relief that the “suffering and stress of this ordeal” was finally behind her and her family.
She also asked that their privacy be respected so they could “return to our lives within our local community in peace”.
Senior investigators leading the current inquiry have also acknowledged the original investigation fell below the required standards – while stating their commitment to solving the case.
In January 2018, An Garda Síochána announced a review into the death of Baby John, and since then its Kerry Division has carried out an “extensive” investigation, supported by the Garda Serious Crime Review Team.
Hundreds of people have been interviewed and more than 560 lines of inquiry have been initiated.
In September 2018, Baby John’s remains were exhumed and taken to the morgue at University Hospital Kerry in Tralee for examination, and were reinterred later that afternoon. His remains are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Cahersiveen.