Could she have been murdered?

Two years after Mary Reid’s mysterious death, her family still fights for the truth, writes John Breslin.

MARY REID’S body was found on a beach in north Donegal in late January 2003. It was presumed she had either committed suicide or had an accident.

On arriving at the scene on Doagh Island on the Inishowen Peninsula, Sergeant Michael Murray, a 30-year-veteran, concluded that there were no marks on the body to suggest foul play. It was dark.

The scene was not preserved and Ms Reid’s partially clothed body was removed soon after to Letterkenny Hospital, where Dr Seamus Kelly carried out a post-mortem examination. He concluded she had drowned, though there were a number of abrasions on her face and above and below her ribcage.

In September 2003, an inquest jury agreed but delivered an open verdict, leaving it open to the gardaí to re-open the file which had been formally closed some months earlier. The jury could not say, after hearing all the evidence, that the 49-year-old had killed herself or was the victim of an accident.

When asked about the death last month, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern referred to it as a “tragic accident”.

Ms Reid’s family are deeply unhappy and, following a campaign that began after the publication of the second Morris Report into corruption in Donegal, her brother Joe and sister Anne Ward will meet today with the two most senior gardaí in the north west region, Assistant Commissioner Catherine Clancy and Chief Superintendent Noel White, at the Irish Embassy in London.

Joe Reid said: “You can take it for granted they are now taking it seriously.”

The family have questioned why the scene was not preserved, why no forensic evidence was collected, why the State Pathologist was not alerted and why no attempt was made to track Ms Reid’s movements on the day of her death.

Could she have been murdered?

“I think it’s more than a possibility,” said Mr Reid.

Mary Reid was a high-profile political activist, a one-time member of the Official Republican Movement and then the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the INLA’s political wing, who was catapulted into the public eye when she was imprisoned in France in the early 1980s.

She and two others were arrested by anti-terrorist police who claimed they found guns and explosives in the apartment.

They were released after nine months, when it emerged the items were planted in the apartment where the three were living. More than 20 years later, she was still involved in a civil action against the French police, particularly a senior member of the anti-terrorist unit.

“She was determined to expose this guy, who is still a high roller. It was almost at the final stage and was due to conclude in 2003. When Mary died, the case died with her,” said Mr Reid.

Her political history alone should have been enough for the death to be investigated much more thoroughly, said Mr Reid. “In reality, she could have just given someone a lift. We also wanted to know her phone records, whether she had arranged to meet somebody. Basic stuff.”

Ms Reid was a writer and community activist. She used her car as an office, was a chain smoker and had travelled from Derry to Doagh Island with her two dogs on the morning of her death.

Detective Garda Martin Egan told the inquest he searched the car for any notes or letters but was “amazed” to find “absolutely nothing”. The car was removed to Burnfoot Garda Station but no further examination was carried out, the inquest heard.

Her bag, wallet and phone have never been found, neither has one of her dogs. The theory early on was that the terrier had fallen in to the water and that Mary died tried to rescue it.

Local man Patrick Doherty found the body shortly after 5.30pm. He told the inquest he moved it from rocks to what he described as a safer place before calling the emergency services.

Ms Reid’s body was naked from the waste up and the clothes have never been found. It was a winter day and she was wearing heavy clothes, which, Mr Reid claims after receiving independent advice, are unlikely to be torn off the body in the sea.

Sgt Murray said he had extensive knowledge of drownings and the loss of garments was in no way suspicious given the treachery of the water in the area.

Ms Reid, a regular visitor known well to the locals, is believed to have travelled from Derry on the morning of her death. Her body was found a 10-minute walk from the car. No one who gave statements saw her that day. Those who regularly walked the beach were not interviewed while two potential witnesses declined to give statements to the gardaí.

Ms Reid, originally from Pettigo in Donegal, was due to publish a book of poetry and was working on a television programme about the Doagh Island Famine Centre. Her son Cathal was due to get married later that year.

She had been treated for depression following the death of her father four years previously but this was no longer a concern, her doctor Linda Boyd said.

Still a political activist and committed socialist, the impending war on Iraq was troubling her deeply, partner Terry Robson told the inquest.

Joe Reid says: “We’re not looking for resignations or compensation, only the truth surrounding Mary’s death.”

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