Sunday 16 December 2018

A horrifying past that society seems unable to confront

HEADSTONE: Cynthia says that baby Noleen is her murdered daughter
HEADSTONE: Cynthia says that baby Noleen is her murdered daughter

Jim Cusack

CYNTHIA Owen's lone quest for justice for the awful crimes of abuse she says were inflicted on her behind closed curtains in the tiny terrace house in Dalkey received another setback last week.

The narrow hope that the Minister for Justice might order the excavation of the communal grave for foundlings and stillborn children at Glasnevin Cemetery was one of the few things that Cynthia Owen had clung to in the hope of proving the horrors that she claims were visited on her childhood and on her siblings Michael and Theresa.

Since she walked into Dun Laoghaire Garda Station 11 years ago and said the unidentified, murdered baby found in a bin bag in one of the town's alleyways in 1973 was her daughter, she has sought to have her case proved, justice done and her voice heard.

Up until the reopening of the inquest by Dun Laoghaire coroner, Dr Kieran Geraghty, last year Cynthia endured years of frustration in the face of what seemed like official nervousness and inertia in response to the horrors that were inflicted on her, Theresa and Michael.

Her story is part of a nightmare of Ireland's social past that present-day official Ireland does not seem prepared to openly confront.

Within 24 hours of the coroner's request, and before she was officially informed, newspapers were quoting "sources" saying that it was likely the request would be refused. Though it was a likely outcome, it was a cold way of fobbing her off.

In his own statement on Friday, Minister McDowell was at pains to emphasise that he did not wish to minimise the tragedy but he could not stand over such a major exhumation project in a grave where the remains of at least 18 other infants were buried. It nothing else, maybe, the coroner's request might make hospitals aware of the need not to bury infants in communal graves in future.

Cynthia has repeatedly questioned why foundlings and stillborn children in Ireland are buried in such a way in communal graves. The revelations in recent years that stillborn babies were dissected might go some way to explain why these type of burials took place.

Cynthia accepted that re-opening the communal grave would cause distress to other parents - "the last thing I want to do" and said she would not seek a judicial review of the Minister's decision - a legal option open to her.

Instead, she noted the Minister's reference to "the tragedy of this baby's death" and said: "As is shown on her death certificate, Noleen died from stab wounds; she was murdered. If the Garda authorities had investigated the matter properly in 1973 and, for example, carried out blood tests, we would not be going through this now. Likewise, the cemetery in Glasnevin should have buried the baby in a separate plot, in the knowledge that further enquiries would be likely due to the 40 stab wounds. Instead, she was buried in a communal grave, which has now led to the Minister turning down the request of the coroner.

"There are much wider issues connected with all of this and a successful exhumation would have hugely assisted.

"I am now calling on the Minister to set out in what way he will assist me in obtaining answers to the many questions I and my legal team have been raising for quite some time. Ultimately, I am a woman and a mother, still grieving over the death of two of my children since the Seventies. Additionally, I have also lost three of my siblings in very difficult circumstances."

In the case of the child she says is her daughter, she wants to know what happened to the evidence in what was evidently a murder case; why no blood group or tissue samples were kept; what happened to the bag and sanitary towels alongside the dead baby; what happened to the missing records of the first inquest; why the bag in which the body was found wasn't checked for fingerprints; why there was no report of how, she says, two gardai stopped her and her mother on the night they carried the body of the baby from Dalkey into Dun Laoghaire; why gardai failed to carry out an adequate investigation.

Cynthia says that at least one of the nuns at her national school knew she was pregnant and sent her home.

Cynthia believes that the case was frustrated from the outset because no one wanted to confront what she claims was going on in the Murphy household. Peter Murphy, her father, was a well known "character" in the area, and he and his wife Josie continue to deny any wrongdoing took place. Older Murphy siblings also deny Cynthia and the younger family's version of events.

The next act in the quest for truth and justice in this case is the outcome of the Garda re-investigation of Cynthia's statements and, particularly, her claim that she gave birth to a second child which she says was fathered by a member of the Garda and another man who, she said, paid her grandmother small sums of money to be allowed to rape her when she was 13.

The investigation has been going on for over 18 months and it is understood the file is about to go to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Cynthia told detectives that her second child was stillborn and was buried in the back garden of her parents' home in White's Villas behind Dalkey Town Hall. The garden was excavated last year but nothing was found.

Detectives are believed to have questioned the ex-garda named by Cynthia as the man who raped her at her grandmother's house in Dalkey each week. Senior gardai would not confirm yesterday that the man had been questioned.

At the outset of the case, sources insinuated that Cynthia was delusional and may have undergone psychological treatment involving "recovered memory". However, that is not the caseand she did not receive any such treatment.

What's more, her testimony is supported by the highly detailed 37-page suicide note left by her younger sister Theresa who died in February 2005.Theresa, it was learned, was the daughter of Margaret - one of the older Murphy children - though she grew up in infancy believing her mother was her sister. After suffering years of depression, she finally killed herself in identical fashion to her brother, Martin who hanged himself 10 years earlier.

Theresa's letter, which she addressed to Cynthia, detailed horrific abuse suffered by her and her brother Michael at the hands of her father, which he denies. Michael had disappeared in June 2002. He, too, was suffering severely from depression and was drinking two bottles of vodka a day by the time hedisappeared after being last seen in the vicinity of Killiney Dart station.

In February 2005, during reconstruction work at the station, workmen uncovered his remains in undergrowth on the seaward side of the station wall. It was shortly after the discovery of Michael's body that Theresa finally killed herself.

Cynthia's hope, in the absence of any criminal case, is that there will be an inquiry into how what she claims happened to her and her brothers and sisters was allowed to take place without either Garda or social worker intervention.

She is particularly concerned at the conduct of the original Garda investigation. There are discrepancies in the files and evidence was either not collected or lost.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about what will come of Cynthia's quest. Previously the DPP has rejected complaints on at least five occasions citing "the length of time and the difficulty in securing a conviction as a result" and "lack of evidence and any admission of guilt".

No local politician has sought to help Cynthia and only Alan Shatter has spoken out, saying he remains "gravely concerned about the lack of prosecutions in this case". From information published about Cynthia's case he felt convinced there was a prima facie case to be brought alleging murder, assault and sexual abuse.

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section