Hopes missing Ciara can be traced

There were mounting hopes yesterday of a breakthrough in the investigation into the disappearance of Dundalk, Co Louth, teenager Ciara Breen in February 1997 after gardaí arrested a prime suspect for a second time.

Hopes missing Ciara can be traced

The man was originally arrested in September 1999 by local gardaí, assisted by officers from Operation Trace, the dedicated investigation into six missing women, but was released without charge.

Detectives from Dundalk Station re-arrested the man yesterday, aged in his 50s, after gathering fresh evidence, thought to be linked to a witness who wrote two anonymous letters to gardaí at the end of last year.

Gardaí appealed for that person to come forward on RTÉ’s Crimecall programme last December, during which Ciara’s mother, Bernadette, also made a heartfelt appeal for information.

Separate to the letter, two witnesses contacted gardaí in the second half of last year with sightings of Ciara at the time of her disappearance — sightings which gardaí described as significant.

Ciara vanished aged 17 from her home on Bachelor’s Walk, where she lived with her mother, on February 13, 1997.

Hers was one of the six missing women cases in the 1990s, following those of Annie McCarrick, from Dublin, in March 1993; Jo Jo Dullard, from Kilkenny in November 1995; Fiona Pender, from Offaly, in August 1996 and before those of Fiona Sinnott, from Wexford, in February 1998 and Deirdre Jacob, from Kildare, in July 1998.

A Garda spokesman said they arrested a man yesterday morning “in connection with the investigation into the disappearance of Ciara Breen”. He was detained at Drogheda Garda Station under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.

There were additional concerns at the time following local reports of a paedophile gang targeting and grooming boys and girls in Dundalk, including it was thought friends of Ciara, although not Ciara herself. The night before she went missing Ciara and her mother had a meal together at a local restaurant, and spent some time at home.

Bernadette was due to travel to Dublin the following morning for the results of a biopsy, which Ciara had known about. On Crimecall last December, Bernadette said she woke up during the night and noticed the latch was off the window downstairs and realised her daughter had sneaked out.

When she returned from Dublin, after being told she had cancer, Bernadette found her daughter had not returned and raised the alarm.

In his book Missing, Presumed, former detective sergeant Alan Bailey, who worked on Operation Trace, said there was a local man who had tried to socialise with the group of girls, including Ciara.

He said this man was twice the age of many of the girls and his name appeared on local graffiti with Ciara’s name. He said friends of Ciara reported this man had approached them at a cafe the day before she went missing. He said Operation Trace spoke to these witnesses in 1999 and in September that year believing they had sufficient grounds, assisted local gardaí in arresting the man.

Lands associated with the man and his family were searched, but nothing was found, and the man was released. The Garda file recommended charges, but law officers decided there was not enough evidence.

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