Monday 21 January 2019

The Kerry Babies: a victory for power over truth and decency

Kerry single mother Joanne Hayes was hounded in the 1980s because she ­threatened the system, and the State's response was ­merciless

Joanne Hayes (far left) with members of her family
Joanne Hayes (far left) with members of her family
Hayes' signed false confession
Supt John Courtney, who led the garda investigation
Judge Kevin Lynch, who chaired the Kerry Babies Tribunal
Joanne Hayes

Ger Colleran

They'll be coming out of the woodwork now - those special-pleading campaigners attempting to recruit Joanne Hayes as their poster girl.

And they'll argue that the manifest abuse she was subjected to, the travesty of justice she and her family were forced to endure, explains everything there is to know about how women were, and still are ill-treated in Ireland.

It's perfectly obvious, they'll insist - a woman destroyed, her privacy invaded, her pleas for justice dismissed, her moral character torn to shreds by men, because she was a woman.

It's all nonsense.

The unspeakable abuse meted out to Joanne Hayes by the gardaí, the judicial and criminal justice system and subsequently by the political establishment had nothing to do with the fact she was a woman.

She was tormented, eviscerated, scourged and humiliated because she was a threat to the State.

Her fundamental rights, her liberty, privacy, bodily integrity and good name were trampled upon by an Official Ireland that has always possessed the capacity to act like a psychopath, without conscience, empathy or compassion.

It still does, to this day.

Joanne Hayes threatened the system, and powerful people who pulled the strings, elites who believed more in power than decency.

She threatened the credibility of the State and those who controlled it. That's why she was tortured.

Last Tuesday, the gardaí apologised to Joanne Hayes for the unspeakable trauma they put her through nearly 34 years ago. After an incompetent garda investigation into the brutal murder of a newborn baby boy whose remains were discovered on the rocks on White Strand beach outside Cahersiveen, on April 14, 1984, she was charged with murder. She was hauled into Tralee Court on May 2, 1984, to be formally charged and remanded to Limerick Prison. But, within hours, everybody - including the gardaí - knew she was innocent.

Joanne Hayes had absolutely nothing to do with the Cahersiveen Baby, now also called Baby John. Her family were equally innocent of any involvement.

Yet all of them signed detailed confessions expressly implicating themselves in the crime. And that was the problem.

Elite members of the garda's highly experienced murder squad, under the leadership of Supt John Courtney - a Kerryman from Annascaul - arrived down from Dublin a few days after the Cahersiveen Baby was found.

Confession within hours

By the end of April they learned that a woman named Joanne Hayes from Abbeydorney had been treated at Tralee hospital for what was initially thought to be a miscarriage. It soon became clear that she had given birth, but there was no child to be seen.

Supt Courtney and his murder squad hotshots must have felt their visit to the Kingdom would be a short one

On the morning of May 1, 1984, Supt Courtney and his team of detectives moved to wrap up the case in Kerry. Joanne Hayes and other members of her family were taken to Tralee Garda Station. This wasn't expected to take long.

Within hours Joanne, her two brothers Ned and Mike and her sister Kathleen had confessed to involvement in the murder and disposal of the Cahersiveen Baby.

Ned told how he drove about 40km from his family farmhouse outside Abbeydorney all the way back to West Kerry with the dead baby in a plastic fertiliser bag. Then about 3km on the Ventry side of Slea Head, he stopped and took the bag containing the baby out of the car.

"I went over a stone ditch, walked abut 20 yards to the edge of the cliff. I flung the bag from the cliff and into the sea, I would say there was a drop of about 10 feet and I watched the bag drop directly into the water," Ned confessed.

Gardaí would argue later that the tides took the dead baby's remains all the way across the sea to the rocks on White Strand, Cahersiveen.

Mike Hayes confirmed every significant detail of his brother's statement.

Kathleen Hayes, in her statement, told of how she and others were present at their home in Abbeydorney when Joanne stabbed the Cahersiveen Baby to death with the carving knife. "The baby died from the choking and the stabbing," she confessed.

In her statement, Joanne Hayes provided precise details of how she killed the Cahersiveen Baby. "The baby cried when I hit it and I stabbed it with the carving knife on the chest and all over the body..."

And just in case there was any doubt about what baby she was talking about, Joanne's statement contained the following: "When the body of the baby was found in Cahersiveen, I knew deep down it was my baby. May God forgive me. I have heard this statement read over to me and it is correct. I don't want to change any of it."

Joanne Hayes's false confession also contained details of her relationship with a married man, Jeremiah Locke and the arrival of a daughter as a result of that relationship. It stated the family was upset when she became pregnant again.

When the second baby was born, Joanne said in the false confession: "I had to kill him because of the shame it was going to bring on the family."

All of these confessions were bogus - untrue in all material facts.

Throughout her interview at Tralee Garda Station, Joanne repeatedly said she had given birth to a baby boy, that it had died and she'd placed it in a ditch on the family farm.

Gardaí conducted a half-hearted search, its failure to locate a child's remains confirming them in their firm belief that she was guilty of murdering the Cahersiveen Baby.

After being charged with murder, Joanne told her sister Kathleen where the remains of her baby could be found.

Within hours word began to filter through. Joanne's baby was found.

Consternation. The gardaí were in crisis. Joanne had been telling the truth all along.

But what about the statements, including all those details, admitting guilt?

At this point the gardaí and the State should have said: stop, reverse gear.

But they decided to plough on, in the teeth of compelling evidence that they were wrong.

When the government established a tribunal of inquiry, the gardaí went into full-frontal, attack mode.

Now, to accommodate the facts, they insisted Joanne had twins, the Cahersiveen baby and the one found on the family farm, now called the Abbeydorney baby.

When blood tests revealed that Jeremiah Locke could not be the father of the Cahersiveen baby, they shifted position.

Simple. Joanne had twins by a different man.

When it was shown that Jeremiah Locke was almost certainly the father of the Abbeydorney baby, but not the Cahersiveen baby?

Easy. She had twins - by DIFFERENT fathers.

Superfecundation - an extremely rare scientific oddity of EuroMillions proportions - was the last-ditch fallback position for gardaí.

It was incredible, laughable, cruel, fanciful and abusive, right from the start.

To prove the twins theory they had to show that Joanne was sexually promiscuous.

Vile questioning

And Judge Kevin Lynch allowed vile questioning about her personal life to proceed while she was in the witness box, to the point where she couldn't take any more. She collapsed and a doctor was called. She was medicated and forced, shortly afterwards, to submit herself again to the aggressive questioning of one particular barrister Martin Kennedy.

Judge Lynch's tribunal report was the classic whitewash. He said the Cahersiveen baby was not Joanne's. No shit Sherlock! But he found that Joanne killed the Abbeydorney baby by choking it - a judgment that was entirely implausible and based on evidence provided by Joanne's own elderly aunt then suffering from dementia after years of alcoholism.

But what about the confessions?

Judge Lynch explained them away as the product of guilty consciences following the death of the Abbeydorney baby.

He took a different tack with gardaí. They had "gilded the lily" in the witness box, whereas the Hayes family were liars, particularly Joanne's mother Mary, a "blatant perjurer".

The tribunal report amounted to a proxy guilty verdict against Joanne Hayes and her family.

She didn't murder the Cahersiveen baby, but sure, she killed her own.

A threat to the credibility, authority and power of the State had been dispatched with merciless efficiency.

It wouldn't have mattered if Joanne was called John, if she was gay, gender fluid, transgender, bisexual or all of the above.

She was a threat to power. She just happened to be a woman. So they attacked and destroyed her, as a woman. That's how a largely unaccountable State operates.

That's the way it operated then. And as we know from bitter experience, it has operated that way many times since 1984.

And that's the way it still operates today.

Ger Colleran is editor of Kerry's Eye newspaper, a columnist with the Irish Daily Star and co-author of the book, Dark Secrets, The Inside Story of Joanne Hayes and the Kerry Babies

Kerry ­Babies:  A timeline

April 12/13, 1984: A young woman called Joanne Hayes goes into labour at her family's farm in Abbeydorney, Co Kerry. She gives birth to a baby, whose body is left outside.

April 14, 1984: A jogger finds the body of a newborn baby at White Strand beach in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. The baby's body (called Baby John) has multiple stab wounds.

Two weeks later: Joanne Hayes and members of her family are questioned about the circumstances in which she gave birth and statements are signed, in which Joanne confesses to the killing of the Cahersiveen baby.

May 1: Joanne Hayes is charged with killing an unnamed baby.

A day later, the gardaí are led to the body of Hayes' baby at her family farm, where she had told them it was. Even after the second baby's body is found, however, it is now claimed she gave birth to twins. Blood tests on the babies reveal they have different blood types but the theory arises that the "twins" each had different fathers.

Joanne Hayes

October 1984: Murder charges against Joanne Hayes (above) are dropped.

January 7, 1985: The Kerry Babies tribunal of inquiry begins in Tralee into how the investigation was handled. The tribunal will last 82 days and feature intrusive questioning of Hayes, her baby's father Jeremiah Locke, and her family.

October 1985: Inquiry findings are critical of gardaí.

January 2018: Gardaí issue an apology to Joanne Hayes as DNA tests confirm definitively she could not be the Cahersiveen baby's mother. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar offers an apology on behalf of the State, saying Joanne Hayes has been "very badly treated".

A new investigation into the killing of 'Baby John' begins.

- We're far from a perfect society, but don't compare it to the '80s: Ian O'Doherty

Indo Review

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News