Victims’ support group demands accountability following O'Higgins report

Sylvia Roche Kelly: Murdered by a man who was out on bail.

Families of homicide victims have demanded “accountability” following the publication of the O’Higgins report and, furthermore, heavily criticised the media’s concentration on the political fallout.

Advocates for Victims of Homicide called for immediate reform of the bail laws to ensure violent predators such as Jerry McGrath are kept in custody when charged.

McGrath murdered mother Sylvia Roche Kelly in December 2007 while out on bail for a “savage assault” on Mary Lynch in Cavan and, separately, a thwarted abduction of a child in Tipperary.

AdVIC chairman John Whelan, whose sister Sharon and nieces, Zara, aged 7, and Nadia, aged 2, were murdered in Kilkenny on Christmas Day 2008, said the poor treatment of victims “runs through” the entire O’Higgins report.

While documenting the “failures” of probationary gardaí and their supervising sergeants in a litany of cases, Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins said that any disciplinary proceedings of gardaí implicated in his report “would not be helpful”.

The report did not make any negative comment on the decision of a judge to grant McGrath bail despite “strenuous" objections of prosecuting garda in Tipperary.

“No matter what the judge (Mr O’Higgins) said, there were mistakes, whether through incompetence or lack of supervision or lack of communication or whatever, at the end of the day a woman was murdered by someone who should not be out on bail,” said Mr Whelan.

The O’Higgins report documented repeated failures at Bailieboro regarding the appropriate charging of McGrath for the serious assault on Ms Lynch and the failures to object to bail, as well as failures of both gardaí there and in Tipperary to apprise themselves of the seriousness of each other’s cases.

“My experience of gardaí in my own case was they were absolutely top notch and I’ve always spoken very highly of gardaí, but the facts are the facts in this case, and the other cases, that victims were let down.

“In the McGrath case something happened between Bailieboro and Tipperary and this man killed a woman and her family is left bereaved.

“What about accountability? Who is to be held accountable?” 

Mr Whelan continued: “We in AdVIC have been calling for years, but no one is listening, for bail laws to be changed. We want judges to listen to gardaí if they object to bail, particularly where there is a history of violence. Who is to be held accountable for that?”

He also strongly criticised the treatment of Ms Lynch – who gardaí failed to keep informed or ensure she attended court on the day her case was disposed – and Lorcan Roche Kelly, husband of Sylvia, who did not get a reply to his letter asking why McGrath was granted bail for 18 months.

Mr Whelan hit out at the bulk of the media coverage: “Look at the coverage yesterday, it was all about the political fallout, about ex-minister Shatter and Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the ex-commissioner.

"What about Mary Lynch or Sylvia Roche Kelly and her children? What about them? How they’re going to cope.”

He criticised the failure of the last Government in transposing the EU Victims Directive which came into effect last November which would give victims legal rights.

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