THE Government is now lining up the most senior officer untouched by any of the scandals and controversies engulfing the Gardai to become the next Garda Commissioner.
Deputy Commissioner Fachtna Murphy was given a two-year extension to his career in July without other senior members of the force being informed by Government. This will allow Mr Murphy who is now 57, to succeed the present Commissioner, Noel Conroy, who retires in November next year, and to have a four-year tenure, retiring at 62 instead of the usual 60.
Senior Government and garda sources now say that the Deputy Commissioner has been chosen to succeed Commissioner Conroy precisely because he was not involved at senior level in any of the management decisions surrounding the events in Donegal or the Dean Lyons case.
The Government is deeply unimpressed at senior Garda management's handling of the Dean Lyons case after it emerged that a second man - the real Grangegorman killer, Mark Nash - confessed to murdering Sylvia Shields and Mary Callinan after his arrest in Galway for the murders of the young couple, Catherine and Carl Doyle, in August 1997.
Despite the fact that Nash made a detailed statement, senior operational management, including the present Commissioner, continued to believe other senior Dublin gardai when they asserted that Dean Lyons was the real killer. It took nine months for charges to be dropped against Lyons.
Nash has never been charged with the Grangegorman murders despite making very detailed confessions that included information only the killer could know.
Garda management then went on to promote two senior officers in charge of the Dean Lyons case. The then Dublin North Central Chief Superintendent, Dick Kelly, was promoted to Assistant Commissioner and the detective superintendent in charge of the investigation, Cormac Gordon, was promoted to chief superintendent and is now in charge of the National Bureau of Crime Investigation. Both men were criticised for their handling of the case in thereport by senior counsel George Bermingham.
The other senior officer criticised in the Bermingham report, Chief Superintendent Sean Camon, continued to serve as head of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation until his retirement.
The decision to publish the Bermingham report on Friday afternoon, two hours after Commissioner Conroy gave a press conference at Garda Headquarters in which he defended his force against criticism in the Morris report of widespread insubordination and corruption, was seen in senior Garda circles as further proof of the Government's unhappiness with the conduct of Garda management in relation to the Donegal and Dean Lyons affairs.
It is now expected that Deputy Commissioner Murphy will assume control when the present Commissioner retires. The Deputy Commissioner has spent much of his career in fraud investigation and was the first head of the Criminal Assets Bureau before being promoted assistant commissioner in charge of human resources in 2001 and then made deputy in charge of operations in 2003. His work in these offices meant that he was untouched by any of the Donegal scandals.
Yesterday the family of Dean Lyons criticised the report by Mr Bermingham, rejecting his finding that the highly detailed and accurate account of the Grangegorman murders in Dean Lyons's statement came about as a result of gardai unintentionally providing him with information through "leading questions".
Dean's father, Jackie Lyons, said: "I think he got that wrong. You can't tell us that six guards unintentionally gave Dean information about what happened. These are supposed to be educated people. They knew exactly what they were doing. I said that to Mr Bermingham. I said that at our meeting. He didn't explain that in the report. It has me baffled that it took six months and a million euros and we knew that all the time. He has told us nothing that we did not know. We want to know how it happened and we don't believe it was unintentional. They knew exactly what they were doing."
The Lyons family were particularly upset by the suggestion in the report that Dean Lyons may have actually have been in the house on the night after the murders. This was one of the theories put forward by gardai in Dublin after it emerged that Mark Nash had confessed to the murders.
In his report, Mr Bermingham, who regularly represents the State in cases against dissident republicans in the Special Criminal Court, says: "I do not for the purposes of this exercise totally exclude the possibility".
He also found there was "no evidence" to suggest that detectives visited Dean Lyons in the holding cell in the Bridewell Station in the hour prior to the taking of the key statement at 8.45pm on July 25 1997 after Dean had undergone a day of prolonged questioning in front of a video camera. In the videotaped interview, Dean gave a rambling and inaccurate account of the murders.
Mr Bermingham refers to the stark differences between the inaccuracies of the earlier statement in front of the camera and the highly accurate account in the statement taken behind closed doors with the camera turned off. "How could Lyons get so many things wrong for most of the day, only to get so many things right in the final session?" he asked.
He also says that the final statement appears to be in a clearly different language from Dean Lyons's normal speech, referring to "the fluency and sophistication in the language that is hard to square with the Dean Lyons depicted on the video".
However, in his findings, Mr Bermingham said the most likely scenario was that Lyons cited the accurate information from details put to him in leading questions by detectives. He referred to the phenomenon of prisoners under interrogation "embracing the language of the interviewer".
This included accurate detail that the killer used two electric carving knife blades, a black-handled steak knife and a cooking fork taken from the kitchen door. His final statement even included the detail that the electric carving knives had "white clips". It included an accurate description of the staircase, the situation of the bedrooms. There are also accurate descriptions of the two victims including their size and build; the night clothes they were wearing; the precise stab wounds inflicted on them; the fact that there was a plastic bag containing letters in one of the downstairs living rooms; the fact that the murderer had broken a pane of glass in the kitchen to gain entry and then placed pieces of glass in a small pile on the interior window ledge; and that the killer turned off a downstairs light, leaving a blood stain on the switch.
The statement also included the information that the cooking fork had been forced up to the hilt into one of the victim's bodies and some gratuitous detail about Lyons allegedly being sexually aroused during the murders.
During his interrogation, Lyons claimed that after the murders he met a prostitute he knew who helped him clean off the blood. No attempt was made to corroborate this before he was charged.
Mr Bermingham said the interviewing of Dean Lyons breached Garda regulations on the conduct of interviews but he did not find that Lyons was coached or the statement fabricated.
His main criticism centred on the statements of two detectives and the station sergeant that one of them, Detective Garda Dominic Cox, had told his superiors that he believed Dean Lyons had a "Walter Mitty personality", a fact supported by experts hired by both prosecution and defence to assess the personality of Dean Lyons.
See Gene Kerrigan,
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