Kerry Babies: 34 years on, an apology for Joanne

Gardaí have issued an apology to the woman at the centre of the Kerry babies scandal, admitting for the first time that the original investigation was substandard.

Kerry Babies: 34 years on, an apology for Joanne

Some 34 years after charges against Joanne Hayes for the murder of Baby John on White Strand in Caherciveen, Co Kerry, were dropped, the acting Garda Commissioner, Dónall Ó Cualáin, has written to and spoken to Ms Hayes to formally apologise to her for the conduct of the original investigation.

The infant’s body, which had suffered almost 30 stab wounds, including two to the heart, was found in a bag on White Strand Beach, Caherciveen, in April 1984. No-one has ever been held responsible for the death of the five-day-old boy.

However, the body of a second baby was then found on a farm near Abbeydorney outside Tralee.

White Strand Beach. Pic: Dan Linehan
White Strand Beach. Pic: Dan Linehan

Ms Hayes had given birth to a baby boy on the family farm. The baby’s body, later determined to have been stillborn, was found in a field on the farm, where she said that, in a panic, she had left him.

Gardaí persisted in the theory that the Caherciveen baby was also hers and arrested her in connection with that death. Those charges were later dropped.

Ms Hayes, who was 24 at the time, has accepted the apology, though the option of taking a civil case for her treatment by gardaí and the State during the criminal investigation and the subsequent tribunal of inquiry remain open to her.

At a press conference in Kerry yesterday, Superintendent Flor Murphy said a viable DNA profile had been obtained from samples taken from Baby John in the course of the original investigation.

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“This sample has been examined and compared and, as a result of this analysis, we can conclusively state that Ms Joanne Hayes is not the mother of Baby John,” he said.

“It is a matter of significant regret for An Garda Síochána that it has taken such a long time for it to be confirmed that Ms Hayes is not the mother of Baby John.

“On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Hayes for that, as well as the awful stress and pain she has been put through as a result of the original investigation into this matter, which fell well short of the required standards.”

The Garda investigation led to the Kerry Babies Tribunal.

It was established to look into the facts and circumstances leading to the pressing of criminal charges against Ms Hayes in connection with the death of Baby John and the subsequent withdrawal of those charges.

Supt Murphy said: “The tribunal, headed by Mr Justice Kevin Lynch, into that investigation, rightly criticised many aspects of that investigation. For those failings, I apologise.

“It is accepted that the original investigation fell short of what was required and expected of a professional police service, but I want to reassure the public that this will be a thorough and professional investigation.

“While this investigation team cannot change what happened in the past, we can help find the answers into what happened to Baby John and are determined to do so.”

Joanne Hayes with friends outside the Tribunal. Pic: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Joanne Hayes with friends outside the Tribunal. Pic: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Supt Murphy said the key to solving the case lay with the people of Caherciveen and the surrounding areas.

“Ireland was a different place in 1984,” he said. “It was a different society with different societal pressures. We would hope that, in the Ireland of 2018, that people will be more prepared to come forward. Our strong belief at the current time is that the answers to this are in Caherciveen and the close surrounding areas.

“We would ask anyone who was living in Caherciveen and surrounding areas around the time of April 1984 to speak to us. Even the smallest piece of information could be vital. After all these years, Baby John deserves the truth.”

Det Supt Walter O’Sullivan of the serious crime review team also stressed that gardaí believe the answers lie in and around Caherciveen in Iveragh.

“The greatest assistance in this particular case will come from the people of south Kerry,” he said. “We are certainly acting on the premise, drawing on our experience, that the answer to the case, that the questions that can be answered, lies in south Kerry, lies in the Iveragh peninsula.”

Supporters of Joanne Hayes at the Kerry Babies Tribunal. Pic: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Supporters of Joanne Hayes at the Kerry Babies Tribunal. Pic: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Speaking on The Late Late Show after the tribunal, Ms Hayes said that she was the one on trial during the tribunal.

“I didn’t expect a clap on the back, but I didn’t expect it would go so hard on me,” she said. “After all, the tribunal was set up to look into the behaviour of the gardaí, but it was I who went on trial. The tribunal itself was a terrible experience.

“The report, when it came out, was very anti-women, not just anti-me, but anti-women, and I don’t think it showed any feeling at all.

“I was the underdog going into the case, anyway, I don’t think we could have won against the system.”

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