The chief suspect for the murder of art student Emer O’Loughlin was tracked down to a drug rehabilitation facility in Scotland, but was discharged before gardaí became aware of his whereabouts, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The mutilated and charred body of 23-year-old Ms O’Loughlin was discovered in a burnt-out caravan belonging to her neighbour, John Griffin, in Ballbornagh, Co Clare, in April 2005.
She had been living in the caravan with her boyfriend. Mr Griffin lived in a neighbouring one, and it is believed she called over to him to charge her phone.
Her remains were so badly damaged that forensic experts were initially unable to establish whether they were male or female. A post-mortem examination at the time did not indicate a cause of death, but a re-examination five years later found she died violently before the fire.
Mr Griffin, from Mervue in Galway city, who was placed on Interpol’s most-wanted list following Ms O’Loughlin’s death, was already known to gardaí. He had previously used the alias John McDermott and lived in Scotland.
Three days after her death, he reportedly began to act bizarrely. He travelled to the Dún Aonghasa ring fort on the Aran island of Inis Mór and threatened to throw himself from the cliff there, hurling rocks at anyone who came near him. Gardaí in riot gear were flown over from the mainland and lifeboats waited in the sea below in case he carried out his threat. He was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Ballinasloe.
After five days there, he shaved off his dreadlocks and beard and signed himself out. He then returned to Dún Aonghasa, and his clothing was found near the cliffs at the same spot. Despite extensive searches, gardaí have never found him. Detectives believe he had been attempting to fake his suicide and fled Ireland.
A source said he was later tracked to a drug rehab centre in Scotland following co-ordination between gardaí, Scottish police and Interpol. He had left rehab by the time investigators became aware of this information.
“His identification at the rehab in Scotland occurred some time ago,” the source said. “It is terribly unfortunate that he was not identified while a patient there. By the time it was established, he had been released. He is the chief suspect in connection with Emer O’Loughlin’s murder and he remains at large.”
Ms O’Loughlin’s father, Johnny, said this weekend he had numerous issues with the initial garda investigation into his daughter’s murder.
“What gardaí need to do and are trying to do is track down and speak to that man, John Griffin,” he said. “We have a number of questions and problems over the original garda investigation. How did that man get out of Ireland? Why wasn’t he spoken to after he came out of the psychiatric hospital? We need answers.”
Mr O’Loughlin met the senior garda investigator, based in Gort, shortly before Christmas to discuss the case.
“I do have faith that gardaí are doing their best now, but I don’t know how that man was able to get off the island and how he still hasn’t been found,” he said. “All we can do is keep going until we get answers. Emer’s mother, Josephine, is gone now, but we will keep going.”
A garda spokesman confirmed the 2005 murder investigation remains live.