Friday 22 February 2019

Truth of Kerry babies buried in secrets and lies

The investigation into the two infants' deaths reveals much about the Ireland of the time, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

THE baby had been alive for perhaps 24 hours when someone killed him. During that time, he was washed but not fed. The baby's neck was broken, but that wasn't fatal. There were 28 knife wounds, most of them shallow, hesitation wounds, in which the knife was pulled back at the last second. Mostly wounds to the neck. Then the fatal wounds in which the knife was plunged four times into the heart. One might conclude that the killing happened in a mixture of desperation, depression and frenzy. It's not known to this day who did it.

In the Ireland of 1984, things had changed -- but not that much. What was still called "illegitimate" pregnancy was so vigorously disapproved of that it was often concealed, with desperate consequences.

This baby's body was found on the beach at Cahirciveen, Co Kerry. It may have been left there, it may have been washed in from the sea. A jogger found him one Saturday night in April. Garda Sergeant Patrick Reidy and undertaker Thomas Cournane baptised the infant and removed him from the beach.

Sgt Reidy noticed a Goulding's 0:7:30 fertiliser bag several feet away. There were two other plastic bags inside it. He took the 0:7:30 bag to the garda station. Subsequent forensic examination could not link the bag to the baby. It may have been nothing more than litter. It is significant in what follows.

Notes from the garda investigation that ensued -- wobbly at first, then methodical -- give some idea of the Ireland of the time. Note was made of any female who had recently left the area. Get names of any local girls living in Dublin who might have had a baby there and brought it back to Kerry to dispose of.

List the romances that broke up over the past nine months. A pregnant woman was back from England, check her. A list of women who had been pregnant -- see if they can account for their babies. The baby might be a product of incest -- local guards were asked to list families where they suspected that kind of thing was going on.

Ask the grave digger to keep an eye out for any woman who might visit the dead baby's grave. Check out the local home for unmarried mothers. Women who wanted to keep their pregnancies secret went there a month before the birth and stayed a month afterwards. There were about 40 women at the home at any stage. Check if the women had their babies or if they'd been adopted. Check other homes around the country for girls from Kerry.

Lists were drawn up of "hippies" in the area, "tinkers", people allegedly involved in black magic. Local airports were queried in case the baby had been thrown from a small plane.

The guards drew up a memo for priests to read from the pulpit, asking for information. Anyone with suspicions of their neighbour was thereby encouraged to get the police to check them out.

"Ten-year-old says next door after having a baby." Man with "common law wife", check her out. Man with "female living with him", who is she? A girl known to have had an affair with a married man, a woman who had been "getting tablets from Dublin", something to do with pregnancy -- checked and eliminated.

By now, the local gardai were being helped out by several Murder Squad detectives from Dublin. This was unusual. In law, the dead baby was probably the victim of infanticide. The law had long recognised that women, their bodies awash with hormones in the aftermath of the delivery, their emotions in shreds as a result of the circumstances of the birth, sometimes harm, sometimes kill, their babies. Women convicted of infanticide usually receive a non-custodial sentence.

Yet, here were some of the most senior and experienced detectives in the country investigating this crime. Partly it was chance, partly the fact that some of the detectives were from that part of Kerry. With the best of intentions, they were helping out the local gardai.

About two weeks after the baby was found, one of the Murder Squad detectives got tips from three sources -- two hospitals and a Catholic agency for aiding pregnant women. One of the tips led to a woman who had gone to a hospital claiming she was having a miscarriage. But a scan showed she was no longer pregnant.

The investigation began to zero in on Joanne Hayes, from Abbeydorney, outside Tralee. She was single, she had been pregnant, she was no longer so, and there was no baby.

Detectives went to the doctor who had treated Joanne at the hospital. He assured them they were on the wrong track. The doctor knew Ireland and he believed he knew what had happened.

He believed Joanne Hayes had the baby at home, delivered it herself, the baby died and she hid it on the farm. Over the previous 14 years, he knew of seven such cases in the area (he had personal knowledge of five) where women concealed their pregnancies and had the baby and the baby died and the baby was buried nearby. It wasn't an everyday occurrence, but it happened often enough to be part of the Irish way of life.

(During the investigation, gardai came across a woman who had given birth at home, with the help of her mother, and they were raising the child together, in secrecy and in utter poverty. The police got social services to help.)

Normal human instincts clashed with stifling social conventions -- when the result was pregnancy it was sometimes concealed out of shame. Secret home delivery was dangerous and the baby sometimes died. Have a look around the Hayes farm, the doctor said, and you'll find the baby.

As it happened, the doctor was spot on.

Looking back, it's obvious that Joanne Hayes was caught between two cultures -- the strict, demanding culture of the old Ireland into which she was born, and the more tolerant culture of the Ireland that was emerging. She was raised on a small farm, with two brothers and a sister, her father dead, her elderly mother struggling to rear a family alone. The economy was in bad shape, and the family's 66 acres of rough land was a pitiful example of rural decline.

The family was poor but hugely respected. Joanne's aunt, Bridie Fuller, who lived at the farm, was now in terminal decline but in her time had been a highly regarded nurse. Bridie was a descendent of Stephen Fuller, a legendary figure from the Civil War, who had survived a dreadful massacre. Joanne's late uncle Maurice was a peace commissioner.

The old culture preached strictness and hardship, the new culture offered greater freedom and higher expectations. Joanne worked as a receptionist at a local sports centre, where she made friends and eventually fell in love. The father of her daughter Yvonne, born in 1983, was Jeremiah Locke, the sports centre groundskeeper. He was married. In defiance of the old culture of shame, Joanne was happy to be pregnant and wanted the baby regardless of how the relationship worked out.

In truth, the relationship wasn't going anywhere. And Joanne was beginning to realise that by the time she became pregnant a second time by Jeremiah.

Around her, friends and relatives became aware of the second pregnancy, but Joanne didn't want to talk about it. She didn't seek medical support. She seemed to put it out of her mind.

These things can be ignored only so long. On the night of April 12, 1984, at the farm in Abbeydorney, the baby came. There is uncertainty about whether the baby was born in the farmhouse or out on the land. There is evidence for both. Joanne said she panicked and put a hand on the baby's neck -- standing in a field in the night -- to quieten it.

The baby died. State Pathologist John Harbison could not determine that the baby had had a separate existence. Joanne put the body in a plastic bag and walked a couple of fields away from the house and hid it. Just as her doctor told the guards he thought she did. She stuffed it into a hole by a pool of water.

Had Joanne told a doctor the truth, the matter might have been dealt with sensitively, quietly, by the authorities. However, probably within hours of that birth, another birth occurred and a baby was stabbed 28 times. The two separate occurrences were steadily converging.

It was inevitable that Joanne Hayes would come to the attention of the police investigating the death of the Cahirciveen baby. It was their duty to ask her what happened to her baby. What followed was influenced by the background, experience and status of the gardai involved.

These detectives were used to dealing with hardened criminals and subversives. At that time, a high proportion of serious cases were resolved through confessions, following lengthy interrogation. The detectives were persistent, patient, focused.

At around noon on May 1, just over a fortnight after the baby's body was found, over two dozen gardai took part in an operation that brought the case of the Cahirciveen baby to a climax. Joanne Hayes, with her brothers and sister, were brought to Tralee garda station. As was Jeremiah Locke. All were questioned separately. Joanne's mother and aunt were questioned at home. Technically, the family could leave at any time -- in truth, like most of us in such circumstances, they were unsure of their rights, upset and frightened.

It's unclear how much the various members of the family knew about what happened to Joanne's baby. They knew it was born and had died, but they didn't know where it had been disposed of. There may have been fears that the Cahirciveen baby was indeed Joanne's. There was clearly shame and guilt mixed in with the family's fear. They did the worst thing possible -- they began lying. Joanne, they said, had not been pregnant.

For the police, who knew this was not true, it must have seemed like confirmation of their suspicions. Any notion that the police set out to frame anyone is absurd. They had nothing against the Hayes family. They were simply following what they saw as the logic of the case. They had the right people, they believed, and the initial questioning supported that belief. All that was needed now was to help the family divulge the truth.

As the police revealed that they knew about her visit to the hospital, Joanne began backtracking. Yes, she admitted, she had been pregnant. But she had a miscarriage at four months. Again, the police knew this was untrue. The questioning continued.

Finally, she broke, and told the truth. She'd given birth on the farm, the baby died, she'd buried the body there.

To the gardai, this must have seemed like just one more lie, one more confirmation that they were on the right track. At the beginning of the questioning they'd given the standard warning -- everything she said would be written down and could be used against her in a court of law. But now that she'd made an admission, they didn't write it down. When she told the truth they saw it as just one more lie, like the one about not having been pregnant.

Two gardai were sent out to the farm at Abbeydorney, to look for the body of a baby. It was needle-in-a-haystack stuff. Joanne later said she pleaded with the police to take her out to the farm and she'd show them where her baby was.

They kept on asking about the baby that was stabbed to death. The persistent, patient, focused gardai knew that this was the technique that worked. Keep asking the questions, help Joanne and her family acknowledge the truth. As an investigative tool, particularly in these circumstances, it was a blunt instrument.

The frightened family, overwhelmed by shame and guilt about Joanne's baby, must have longed for this to end.

By 10 o'clock that evening, the case was sewn up. The police had a sheaf of admissions, written down by detectives and signed by Joanne, her sister, her brothers and her mother. The confessions -- all broadly similar -- told of the baby being born, being stabbed and beaten to death. And then they told of how it was thrown into the sea off Dingle. Case solved.

The confessions were immensely detailed, describing the baby bobbing in the water off Dingle. There was even the detail of the baby being put into a clear plastic bag, and that put into a brown plastic bag, and that put into a Goulding's 0:7:30 bag, just like the bags found on the beach at Cahirciveen -- the bags that forensic examination could not link to the baby.

Next day, all but Joanne were released on bail. The others went home, looked in the area of the farm where Joanne had said and found Joanne's baby. They called the police.

Sometime around then, the police adjusted their thinking. They began to believe that Joanne had had twins. They now believed both stories she told -- that one dead baby was hidden on the farm, the other was stabbed and thrown in the sea.

A detective compiled a 130-page file for the DPP. "Within the covers of this Garda Report and File is told a sad tale . . . hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". It was colourful, to say the least.

Meanwhile, up in Dublin, the case was falling apart. Forensic scientist Louise McKenna was testing blood -- and repeating the tests again and again. And the tests showed that Joanne was type O. And Jeremiah was type O. The baby found on the farm was type O. And the Cahirciveen baby was type A.

The Cahirciveen baby could not be Joanne's. And, if Joanne was not linked to the Cahirciveen baby, how could she and her family separately sign hugely detailed, similar, confessions to stabbing the baby and throwing it into the sea?

On October 10, 1984, the case came to court and the authorities dropped the charges. Four days later Don Buckley and Joe Joyce, two of the most reliable journalists in the country, published a lengthy article in the Sunday Independent -- a family had confessed to a crime that, according to the forensic evidence, they didn't commit.

Today, after years of the Donegal scandals, it's accepted that gardai are human and that everything they allege cannot be taken at face value. Back then, the newspaper report was shocking, and led to a tribunal of inquiry.

From attending the tribunal, and reading the transcript of the days I couldn't attend, a couple of things were clear. Judge Kevin Lynch had a thorough grasp of the immense detail; and the garda imagination in defending their position was unconstrained.

They suggested Joanne had twins by another man, a man with type A blood. The problem was that the police knew from extensive investigation that Joanne wasn't seeing anyone else. Aha, look here -- on Joanne's mattress, in biro, the name 'Tom Flynn'. Tallyho, the hunt for Tom Flynn was on.

Turned out a man named Tom Flynn worked in the shop that sold the mattress almost 20 years earlier.

The police suggested contamination, or a "recessive gene", caused a mistake in the blood typing. Not a runner. They suggested super-fecundation -- that Joanne had sex with a man with type A blood within hours of having sex with Jeremiah Locke, and had twins, each by a different father, one with type A blood and one with type O.

Apart from the fact that there was no other man on the scene, a leading expert pointed out that this was technically possible but extremely rare. And, he said, he'd have expected Joanne's blood to retain certain substances had she delivered a type A baby. And it didn't.

This expert was Dr Patrick Lincoln, brought over from London, an expert retained by the gardai.

On the stand, the police were veterans, the family uncertain and sometimes distraught. Some made unconvincing allegations of being assaulted.

Judge Lynch's report, in October 1985, found that Joanne Hayes choked her baby to death and beat it with a bath brush. The medical evidence said there was no damage to the larynx and no evidence of strangulation. There was one slight bruise on the baby's neck, consistent with childbirth. I've never understood how the judge made his finding.

An abiding memory of Dr Harbison's evidence was him slapping the bath brush into his open palm and saying any blow from that would have fractured the baby's skull. There was no fracture.

Judge Lynch's explanation of the confessions was intriguing. He found -- although no one gave evidence to this effect -- that the Hayes family had a discussion the night the child

died, about driving to Dingle and throwing the baby into the sea. Then, they decided not to. But two weeks later, under persistent garda questioning, several of them -- separately -- recalled the details of the journey they had talked of making but didn't make. And they included it within separate voluntary confessions to the stabbing.

I've never understood that explanation.

The judge wrote of Joanne's mother committing "blatant perjury", and "lying through her teeth". He wrote of the gardai "gilding the lily".

To his credit, Judge Lynch publicly defended his report. The political establishment didn't seem to care what the truth was, it's doubtful if many of them read the report. Game over, shelve it.

A memory: a woman who worked in the sports centre mentioned in evidence that she had a drink with Jeremiah Locke in the course of an evening out. "And you a married woman!" cried the garda barrister, seemingly shocked. An echo of a culture holding doggedly onto its dominance, in the face of change -- and incidentally causing breathtaking tragedy.

Sunday Independent

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