Garda sticks to belief that Barron died in hit-and-run

THE attitude of a garda officer to the mystery roadside death of a cattle dealer seven years ago was examined in fine detail yesterday by the Morris Tribunal into allegations of corruption in his force.

Superintendent John Fitzgerald, giving evidence for a third successive day at the Dublin-based inquiry, maintained Mr Barron died as the result of a hit-and-run accident at Raphoe, Co Donegal, on October 16, 1996. He stuck to that assessment in spite of information received by a senior officer from an informant that it had been murder and the naming of two chief suspects for the crime.

The information identified local men Frank McBrearty Junior, the member of a pub-owning family in Raphoe, and his cousin, Mark McConnell, as the suspects.

After a garda conference after that development, it was decided to contact the then Irish State Pathologist Dr John Harbison for a second opinion after a locally-conducted examination of Mr Barron’s body had concluded only that he died from being struck by a blunt instrument.

In a subsequent telephone conversation, Dr Harbison said, however, the earlier post mortem exam, carried out by pathologist Dr David Barry, was dependable and very detailed. A new examination by him would only duplicate the same findings. The pathologist’s “considered opinion” was that the body should be buried.

The superintendent told the tribunal: “I wanted to get him (Dr Harbison) down, but the fact of the matter was that he would not come down.

“I respected what he said. I did not take it any further.”

In early December, though, after the arrest of Mr McBrearty and statements he made to gardaí, the thought of exhuming Mr Barron’s body had occurred to Superintendent Fitzgerald, and, he added: “On December 4, I did suspect murder.”The superintendent agreed with Dr Harbison’s counsel, Adrienne Egan, he had not mentioned to the state pathologist during their telephone contact that the death of Mr Barron was being regarded as suspicious.

He also denied criticising Dr Harbison for not attending the scene after Mr Barron’s death.

And dealing with allegations of garda inefficiencies that followed the fatality, the superintendent said: “I did nothing wrong; anything I did was in totally good faith.”

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