Sunday 15 September 2019

Mystery of priest's violent death

Nicola Tallant

THE mystery of what really happened to the priest who died in a society couple's bedroom late at night in July 1985 is no closer to being solved despite a new probe into the 21-year-old case.

An investigative documentary about the brutal death of Fr Niall Molloy in an Offaly mansion in 1985 claims that major questions still need to be answered despite thepassage of time.

In the Scannal investigation top lawyer Antoin Delap criticises the judge who presided over the trial of businessman Richard Flynn, who admitted beating the priest in a row over drink.

He says Justice Frank Roe should have stepped down and never heard the case as he knew the accused, his wife and the priest.

The judge, who has passed away, advised a jury to throw out the case after the then State Pathologist John Harbison was forced to admit it was "possible" the 54-year-old priest died from a heart attack although he believed he had been beaten to death.

A subsequent inquest ruled that Fr Molloy died as a result of the blows he suffered and the priest's family later took a civil case against Flynn, winning more than £13,000. Clara businessman Flynn now lives in the midlands. "The Justice had written to the DPP about the case which was highly unusual in itself. It was very unorthodox and the information came to light years later that he knew both parties involved in the trial," says Delap.

"I don't think he should have presided as a judge in the trial. It would be usual in a situation like this that he would step down and another judge would preside."

Flynn's wife Therese has since died and he has remarried and is living in Athlone but attempts by Scannal to track him down provedunfruitful.

The documentary, made by RTE's Tom Kelly, describes Fr Molloy as a millionaire businessman in his own right. "He was someone who was left £60,000 by his father in the Sixties. This was an absolutely huge amount of money back then," says Kelly.

"But after he died his will could never be found despite the fact that he would have had to lodge it with the local Bishop. He had invested a lot of money in horses over the years with Therese Flynn but it could never be found despite huge efforts by the Molloy family.

"This case just reeks of a time gone by when the establishment appears to have banded together. But the killing of Fr Molloy is something that is still very fresh in the minds of people in Clara and in Roscommon where he was originally from.

"Everyone has their own theory about what happened and for legal reasons we obviously cannot go into them. But there is one thing for sure, there are a lot of unanswered questions in this case."

The Flynns had just celebrated the plush wedding of one of their daughters, Maureen - who married Ralph Parkes - on the weekend that Fr Molloy died. Although he was a close family friend for decades, and business associate of Mrs Flynn, he didn't attend the wedding breakfast or celebrate the mass.

However, according to the documentary, he showed up later in the day and again the next day as the celebrations continued. On the night of July 8, 1985, the day after the wedding, he was discovered dead in the Flynn's luxurious bedroom.

The Gardai were not informed until after a local priest and doctor were called to the house. Retired Detective Kevin Forde tells Scannal that he was one of the first on the scene and found the priest lying in a pool of blood near a wall in the bedroom.

"I was working at the time and living in the Garda station. Fr Dignan came to my door. He told me a man was dead in Richard Flynn's house. He said it was a priest but said he didn't know him. He said there could be a terrible scandal in the town and asked me if it could be kept quiet. But I said we would have to investigate it. I saw a body lying up against the wall at the bottom of the bedroom. There was a towel over the face and I went and took it off.

"The upper lip was cut and there was another one under the chin. I also saw a big blood stain leading from the bed to where the body was lying. There was a struggle. It looked as if someone had been dragged and the bleeding left the mark on the carpet."

Richard Flynn would later tell gardai that his wife Therese had gone up to bed and taken a tablet. He followed up with a drink and was in the bed beside his wife with Fr Molloy at the foot of the bed. He claimed a row broke and his wife and the priest turned on him about going downstairs for another drink.

He claimed he struck his wife once on the left side of her face and hit the priest twice knocking him out. As the rumour mill went into over-drive, the gardai put together a case against Richard Flynn. But when it came to trial it was thrown out after Judge Roe advised a jury.

Then State Pathologist John Harbison had been put under pressure in the witness box by Flynn's defence. He was forced to admit that it was "possible" that the priest died of a heart attack despite saying he believed he had died as a result of the beating.

According to Delap most claims in courtrooms are inadmissible but Justice Roe took on board the defence and advised the jury to throwit out.

"The defence barrister asked the judge to dismiss the case as it would be wrong to convict Flynn when the State's chief witness had conceded that heart problems could have caused the death and not the blows he received. In most cases this type of thing is unsuccessful in an instant. But this time it came to an abrupt end," he said.

Years later when gangster Martin Cahill raided the DPP's office and stole over 100 top-secret files, it was discovered that Justice Roe had written admitting he knew all the Flynns and Fr Molloy but heard the case anyway.

"Afterwards there were claims that Fr Molloy was thinking of pulling out of the horse business and investing in cattle instead. Just some of the questions that went unanswered then and remain unanswered today and which serve to fuel the suspicion and curiosity that surround this case," says Kelly.

Scannal will be shown tomorrow on RTE One at 7.30pm

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