A detective garda today broke down in the witness box as he apologised to two innocent sisters for mistreating them in custody.
John Dooley has admitted to the Morris Tribunal that Roisín McConnell and Katrina Brolly were subjected to catalogue of abuse when they were questioned in Letterkenny garda station in December 1996.
“I’d like to sincerely apologise to Mrs Brolly and Mrs McConnell for the treatment I inflicted on them while they were in custody in Letterkenny,” he said.
Garda Dooley, who has served in the force for the last 28 years, then broke down in the witness box and wiped away his tears with a white handkerchief.
“I regret that I hadn’t the moral courage to tell the truth from the outset,” he said.
During the interviews with Mrs Brolly and Mrs McConnell, garda Dooley and his colleague Detective Sergeant John White used foul and abusive language, flicked lights on and off, threw a chair around the room and threatened them with long jail sentences.
Both innocent women were being questioned because gardaí wrongly suspected Mark McConnell, the wife of Roisín McConnell and brother-in-law of Mrs Brolly, of being involved in the death of cattle dealer Richie Barron in October 1996.
Garda Dooley, who is on sick leave after suffering a bout of depression, had denied the mistreatment allegations over a nine-year period despite four separate inquiries – by the Garda Complaints Board, the Carty inquiry, the Morris Tribunal and the civil court case taken by Roisín McConnell.
“I unfortunately went down this road of denial and it went downhill from there,” he said.
It was only last week, in a statement to the Morris Tribunal, that he outlined the extent of abuse faced by the sisters, and pinned much of the blame on Sergeant White.
Garda Dooley said he talked to Sergeant White about admitting to garda investigators that they had shown Roisín McConnell graphic photos of the post mortem of Richie Barron.
He said Sergeant White, whom he looked upon as a friend and a leader, had said not to do this.
“But I think it would be unfair if I cast all the blame on him for this. I have to take responsibility, I made the statement myself,” he said.
The tribunal had to be briefly adjourned when garda Dooley, 48, from Kilconnell, Co Galway, broke down a second time.
He said he had been haunted by the lies he had told and had consulted with his solicitor and two garda superintendents, who had urged him to tell the truth.
He said other members of the force had rung him since to say he was doing the right thing and added that his family had been supported by the community.
“I live in Glenties, which is a small town in West Donegal. Loads of people have said positive things to them and loads of people have been to the house.
“They’ve been talking to me at Mass and saying: ’I was doing the right thing’.”
He confirmed to tribunal counsel Peter Charleton that he had turned off the light during his second interview with Mrs Brolly; that he got her to stand up on the floor; that he had shown her graphic photos of Richie Barron’s brain; and that he had told her that her three children could be put in care.
“It wasn’t pleasant for Mrs Brolly. From my actions, the shouting, it was pretty intimidating, it was terrible really,” said Garda Dooley.
He confirmed that another garda, Joan Gallagher, had pulled Mrs Brolly’s hair twice during the interview and then called her a "lying bitch".
“Mrs Brolly said: ‘I didn’t come her to have my hair pulled.’ She was certainly upset about the photographs. She was very annoyed about her hair being pulled also,” said garda Dooley.
The tribunal heard that garda Dooley had been very uneasy about the fact that garda Gallagher was working for the garda office liaising with the Morris Tribunal but had approached her last year to help him compose a statement.
“I was still in denial and I was worried about all this. I’m not suggesting that she was a party to my false statements, said garda Dooley.
He said that he had nothing against garda Gallagher, who is denying that she pulled Mrs Brolly’s hair.
“But in the interests of honesty, and in fairness to Mrs Brolly, I have to tell the truth. Garda Gallagher pulled the hair and I have no doubt about that,” he said.
He told the tribunal that he and Sergeant White had heard that Frank McBrearty Junior had allegedly admitted to the murder of Richie Barron on December 4 1996, the day they arrested Mrs Brolly.
He said they had been told by garda superintendent Joseph Shelly to ’break her’.
“(We took this mean) to apply pressure on Mrs Brolly and that she may be at least be able to give us some insight into the Mark McConnell side of the story.”
Garda Dooley said that although he had not received training on how to interview suspects when he was made a detective in 1994, he should have abided by the custody regulations.
He agreed with tribunal counsel Peter Charleton that that the interviewing techniques used on Mrs Brolly were savage and inhumane.
But he said that he and Sergeant White had been working for 18 hours when they began their interview with her at 11.40pm.
“I’m not making an excuse for my behaviour, it was disgraceful, but we were very tired. We were slouching around the kitchen during our breaks.”
Garda Dooley is due to be cross-examined on his evidence tomorrow.