Setting the right tone from day one

METHODICAL, professional, sensitive. The tone of the garda response was set from day one.

Robert Holohan was reported missing in Midleton late on Tuesday, January 4. From daybreak on Wednesday, the searching began.

Gardaí, backed up by the army and, at times, more than 1,000 volunteers, scoured the area.

Superintendent Liam Hayes of Midleton and Chief Superintendent Kieran McGann of the Cork North Division were there from the outset.

The searches were thorough and careful. Gardaí stressed the importance of not disturbing possible evidence.

As fears mounted of an abduction, Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey was called in.

As head of the Garda National Support Services, he brought in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI); the Operational Support Unit and the Garda Technical Bureau.

Initial lists of possible suspects who may have been involved in an abduction were quietly drawn up.

Reports surfaced that gardaí were checking the Sex Offenders Register in the east Cork area. A major reconstruction was staged on Tuesday. Speaking at the reconstruction Assistant Commissioner Hickey said: “We have put huge resources into the investigation already and no effort will be spared to find Robert.”

To hear such a statement, from such a senior garda figure in Midleton, demonstrated to all, including Robert’s parents, Mark and Majella, how seriously gardaí were taking the matter.

In the meantime, gardaí were using telecommunication companies to try and locate Robert using his mobile phone.

This led to the breakthrough on Wednesday 12, with the discovery of a body in undergrowth at Inch Strand.

Garda bosses knew forensics could be the key to unlocking the investigation. If the death was unplanned and the disposal of the body rushed there was a high probability of the killer leaving forensic footprints.

The scene was sealed off pending the arrival of the Garda Technical Unit and the State Pathologist on Thursday morning.

Fingerprints from black plastic wrapping around Robert’s upper body, together with clothes fibres on Robert’s clothes were found. Gardaí also had fingerprints from Robert’s BMX and tyre tracks found near the scene. Post- mortem results showed Robert had died from asphyxiation, with no signs of sexual assault. Suspicions began to harden that a local, who knew Robert well, may have got involved in some sort of argument with the boy and killed him, possibly accidentally.

At a press conference on Thursday gardaí said there were 1,000 lines of inquiry and more than 30 possible suspects.

There were 100 gardaí involved - 50 on searches and 50 on detective work.

Assistant Commissioner Hickey said it was possible the killer wanted to admit his guilt.

Media handling was a key part of the garda investigation. Senior garda were not going to let this turn into another Rachel O’Reilly investigation, bedeviled by potentially serious legal leaks.

Gardaí, fronted by Garda Press Office head Superintendent Kevin Donohoe, were up front: “We’ll be accessible, but we won’t be commenting on operational matters,” the media was told.

On Friday, Supt Hayes said he was confident the killing would be solved.

By the weekend, the media was talking of arrests. An arrest was made yesterday morning.

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