A garda review of the death of a baby whose murder is bound forever to one of the most divisive sagas in modern Irish history gets under way today.
In the 33 years since the body of Baby John was found on White Strand, Caherciveen, Co Kerry, no light has ever been shed on who his parents are and how he ended up there — despite a murder investigation and lengthy tribunal that reflected poorly on garda behaviour, and even less favourably on the prevailing unpalatable attitudes towards female sexuality, and unmarried mothers in particular.
However, on last night’s Claire Byrne Live show, it was revealed that a full DNA profile of the Caherciveeen baby had been generated, which may explain the re-opening of the case.
Two years ago, the Hayes family said it believes tissue samples retained from the dead infant could dispel doubts over their innocence in the child’s death.
The Kerry Babies case divided society like no other. Joanna Hayes, from Abbeydorney, outside Tralee, was an unmarried mother who had been having an affair with a local married man, Jeremiah Locke, resulting in a pregnancy, with ultimately no baby to show for it.
This raised garda suspicions during their investigations into the mystery behind the baby washed up on the beach. Ms Hayes was arrested and confessed to the murder.
The 25-year-old initially told gardaí she had miscarried after four months, but later said she had a baby boy, which she delivered while standing up in a field.
The baby appeared to be dead and she panicked and went home, and the following morning she returned to the spot and placed it in a drain, she told them.
Gardaí then extracted confessions from other members of the family that Ms Hayes had beaten and stabbed the baby to death, and that her siblings had disposed of the body at Slea Head, suggesting that the baby found on Caherciveen Beach on April 14, 1984, was hers.
Charges were preferred against Ms Hayes and family members, but in a sensational twist the day after their court appearance, the body of a second baby was found in a hole of water on the Hayes’ farm, bearing out Ms Hayes’ story.
The garda presumption then was that twins were born to Ms Hayes, but results of blood tests on tissue from the Caherciveen baby, which became known about three weeks after the charges had been preferred, debunked this theory.
The charges were not dropped until October 1984 and there was an immediate outcry after details of the case became public knowledge. The Hayes family claimed they had been ill-treated by the gardaí and forced to make statements, and that the charges had been fabricated.
The then justice minister, Michael Noonan, ordered a public tribunal of inquiry.
The Kerry Babies Tribunal lasted 82 days in 1985. It ended with High Court Judge Kevin Lynch clearing the garda investigating teams, in general, while finding that the investigation was “slipshod”.
He unequivocally found that Joanne Hayes did not have twins, but one baby — the Abbeydorney baby.
The news that the case of Baby John is being revisited may not be welcomed in all quarters. The review will be conducted by gardaí in Caherciveen supported by the Serious Crime Review Team.
At a news briefing scheduled for Caherciveen garda station at 2pm today, investigating gardaí will appeal for information from anyone living in Caherciveen and surrounding areas around April 1984 that could help finally unravel the mystery of where Baby John came from and who his parents are, while simultaneously bringing closure for Joanna Hayes and her family.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved