A question of cock-up or cover-up?




MARY Lynch heard about the murder on the nine o’clock news. It said a woman had been beaten to death and gardaí were looking for a 23-year-old man.

The body had been found in a hotel in Limerick. Mary and her husband George were sitting in front of the TV in their home in Kells, Co Meath. Mary felt a chill shoot through her body. She turned to her husband.

“Whatever way it was said, (on the TV), George and me just looked at each other and we knew. I said, ‘that’s McGrath, it has to be’.”

She phoned a guard she knew in Munster, but he told her he couldn’t say anything, as the suspect was at large. A few days later he phoned and confirmed her worst suspicions.

Just seven months earlier, Mary had been the victim of a vicious assault by Jerry McGrath. The case had not been dealt with, and she was growing increasingly suspicious of its handling by the gardaí. Just two months before the murder, McGrath had been arrested after he attempted to abduct a five-year-old girl in Co Tipperary.

He had been granted bail in that case, despite being already on bail for the assault on Mary. By right, he should never have been granted bail on the abduction charge. He should never have been at large when he killed 33-year-old Silvia Roche Kelly in the Clarion Hotel in Limerick.

In the aftermath, it had been assumed the case was a harrowing indictment of lax bail laws. The reality, though, is that the case was an example of serious malpractice within the gardaí for which there can only be two plausible explanations. Either there was gross incompetence by a number of officers, or there was an organised cover-up designed to avoid scandal in the wake of an initial mistake.

Mary Lynch was working her taxi for just over two hours when she encountered Jerry McGrath. It was 2.15am on Monday, Apr 30, 2007. McGrath emerged from the nightclub in the Headford Arms Hotel in Kells and asked would she take him to Virginia, Co Cavan, where his sister lived. He was from Dundrum in Co Tipperary, but was staying with his sister.

She opened up a conversation with him on the route, asked had he had a good night. He didn’t really answer, but began a monologue on things that had gone wrong in his life. His girlfriend had lost a baby. Nobody was giving him sympathy. He related how various members of his family had health issues.

Mary had heard much of it before. Working late at night, ferrying fares often full of drink, she was accustomed to tales of woe.

In Virginia, he gave her directions that led down a dark cul-de-sac. He didn’t seem to know which house was his sister’s, although he had been staying there some time. Mary stopped outside a random house, and told him the fare was €32.

“I thought he was going to run away,” she said in a statement. “I could see him walking around the back of the car — I let down the window and he opened the car door and said he had no money. I told him I would have to report this to the guards.

“I tried to drive off and he took the keys out of the ignition. When he took the keys out he started pulling my hair and telling me to get out of the car. I knew if he could get me out of the car I was in danger.

Mary, who was 52 at the time, held on for dear life in the car.

“He pulled lumps of hair out of my head. He kept telling me to lean forward and I could see that his zip was open. He stood back and started kicking me into my stomach on my right hand side. He was shouting at me all the time. At some stage during this I grabbed my mobile phone and pressed the green button which I knew would call the last dialled number.”

That number belonged to her husband. She kept screaming for help, and George, on the line, could hear her. He rang the gardaí and immediately set out for Virginia.

“I kept trying to say where I was. He leaned across and unbuckled my seat belt. At this point I leaned over to my left and reached into the glove box and grabbed a tin of deodorant. He started biting me on my right shoulder. He had pulled at my t-shirt and was biting my shoulder in the flesh.”

She tried to spray the deodorant on him, and he reared back, rubbing his eyes. She pleaded with him to take the money and let her go. “He started saying that nobody was listening to him. I said I was listening to him and I would get him help if he gave me my keys back.”

In the end, McGrath calmed down. Mary, petrified that he might attack again, out here where nobody would hear her, agreed to drive him into the town. By then, her husband and the gardaí were out looking for her. On Main St in Virginia, they found her, George arriving first, followed by a squad car, from Bailiboro station.

McGrath was arrested. Mary was in a hysterical state, believing she had just escaped from what could have been a violent death. George drove her to Navan hospital, where she was attended to.

Two gardaí arrived in Navan some time later, having acquired a camera from Navan station, as none was available at their own station in Bailiboro. The officers took a padded envelope of Mary’s sundered hair from the taxi as evidence. She says that she and George later recovered as much hair again from the vehicle.

Photographs taken at the hospital show serious black bruising under her right eye, across her throat and on her shoulder, as if somebody had splashed large daubs of ink on her. The right side of her upper body had sustained repeated kicks from her assailant.

The following day, McGrath was released on station bail of €300, provided by a relative. He was charged under Section 2 of the Non Fatal Offences Against The Person Act, amounting to “assault”, a minor charge, dealt with by the district court. No conditions attach to such bail.

He was released before Mary Lynch gave her statement, which detailed the assault. Therefore, he was not questioned on the details of her statement.

A subsequent investigation by the garda ombudsman reported that the decision to release McGrath in this manner was to have “lasting consequences”.

STONEWALLING

The investigation of the assault appears to have been minimal. No detective was appointed to the case. Once the initial decision was taken to press minor charges, little was done, despite the harrowing detail of Mary Lynch’s account, or the medical and physical evidence presenting.

In the months that followed, Mary frequently rang Bailiboro to inquire about progress. Usually, she was referred to the arresting guard Padraig McEvoy and, more often than not, she says she was told he was not on duty at the time of the call.

“I kept being told that they were waiting for the file to come back from the DPP,” she said. In reality, the file hadn’t gone to the DPP. It wasn’t sent until the following October, nearly six months after an assault that required basic investigation. When it was sent, it was accompanied with a recommendation that the case be dealt with in the district court.

The file came back within three weeks, upgrading the charge to Section 3, “assault causing harm” and a robbery charge. The DPP instructed that it should be dealt with by the district court only if a guilty plea was entered on both charges. Otherwise, it should go to trial in the Circuit Court. But by then, all had changed.

ATTEMPTED KIDNAP

Around 3.30am on Oct 9, 2007, McGrath broke into a house in Dundrum, Co Tipperary. He encountered a five-year-old girl in one of the bedrooms, his entry possibly having awoken her. He clasped his hand over her mouth, and on her throat and made his way down the stairs with her.

The girl’s father heard the disturbance and cornered McGrath in the kitchen downstairs. He managed to overpower McGrath and held him until the arrival of the gardaí.

McGrath was charged with assault causing harm, burglary and false imprisonment. The girl and her whole family were highly traumatised by the incident. A court later heard the girl’s feeling of security in her own home was robbed from her, and she frequently asked her parents: “what was this man going to do with me?”

Mary Lynch heard about the Tipperary case through a garda friend in Munster. “He rang and told me about the kidnap case. As far as I knew by that time, my case still had not gone to the DPP.”

Naturally, the development heightened Mary’s anxiety but also reinforced her determination to make a victim impact statement when her own case came to trial.

While McGrath was being held in Limerick prison on the Tipperary charge, his Cavan case came up for a routine renewal of bail in Virginia District Court on 18 Oct. McGrath’s solicitor was informed that he wouldn’t have to attend the hearing as it would be a waste of resources to have him brought from Limerick for a two-minute routine hearing.

No objection was made at the Virginia court to renewing bail, despite the fact that it was known that McGrath was now in custody on a more serious charge. His failure to present in court for the remand was highly unusual, notwithstanding the agreement between the parties.

On Oct 30, McGrath applied for bail in Clonmel Circuit Court on the false imprisonment charge. The gardaÍ objected. Detective Sergeant John Long outlined the gardaÍ’s concerns. There was a fear that McGrath might flee, a fear that he could interfere with witnesses, the prospect that he might re-offend.

Yet despite the gardaí’s huge concerns about bail being granted, the court was not told about the Cavan incident. An officer attempting to make the strongest case possible to keep a suspect in custody did not present the court with the strongest evidence to back up his argument. If the judge had been told that McGrath was already on bail for a violent offence, it is inconceivable that bail would have been granted.

In a subsequent investigation, Sgt Long said that prior to the bail application, he had checked McGrath’s background on the garda Pulse system. (This would be second nature to any garda investigating a violent incident). On seeing an entry about Cavan, he rang an “unidentified garda” in a “Cavan station” — also unidentified — and was told that the case involved a minor assault over a taxi fare.

Irrespective of how vague the detail, or how serious the Cavan incident, it still does not explain why the case was not mentioned in the Clonmel bail application.

HOTEL MURDER

McGrath was granted bail. Five weeks later, on Dec 7, he was socialising in Limerick city, when he encountered separated mother-of-two, Silvia Roche Kelly. She accompanied him back to his hotel room in the Clarion, where, at some stage in the early morning, he assaulted her.

Around noon the following day, hotel staff discovered her body face down in the bath. Blood stained towels were found at her head and shoulders. McGrath fled the country, but returned and gave himself up four days later.

He told gardaí that he had hit Ms Roche-Kelly in the face, pulled her hair and put his hands around her neck and strangled her. He said he may have kicked her between the legs with some force before moving her body to the bath.

Up in Cavan, Mary Lynch was digesting the news with horror. She rang Bailiboro garda station. “I spoke to the superintendent and I said McGrath has just murdered somebody and you told me I was safe. He said they were sending me a liaison guard. If I was to get a liaison guard assigned to me I would have thought it should have happened after the assault and not then.

“Anyway, he came the following week and said he’d keep me informed and made an appointment to see me for the next time. I never saw him again.”

Mary’s main concern now was the disposal of her case in court. By then, she had resigned herself to it being dealt with in the district court, despite the trauma of the assault she’d suffered.

Finally, she was given a date for the case, Monday, Jan 7, 2008 at Virginia. She psyched herself up for the occasion, considering whether to deliver a formal victim impact statement. Then, two days before the appointed date, she got a call.

“I was told there was no need for me to show up on the Monday, that it would be held over.” Disappointed, she accepted the situation.

The next communication was on the Monday afternoon. “I got a call from an Inspector who stated to me ‘your man got nine months’,” according to a witness statement made by Mary Lynch.

“When I asked who, he stated that Jerry McGrath had got nine months. I told him that I was told the case was not going ahead and he said he knew nothing about that. I told him I was informed I would be given the opportunity to make a victim impact statement to the court. He said he did not know anything about that and he was only handed the case file that morning and told to go into the court.

“He also told me that if I wanted to see Jerry McGrath he was still in Virginia garda station. I said I do not want to see Jerry McGrath in a garda station, I wanted to see him in court.”

After hanging up, Mary became highly emotional. She had been denied her day in court, a chance to effect some closure on a horrendous ordeal. She had emphasised to the gardaí that she wanted to see McGrath in the secure environment of a court, but she found the offer to see McGrath in the garda station as little short of surreal.

Indicating to Mary Lynch that the case was not going ahead could have well been a simple cock-up. But it’s also the case that at that stage any public statement she might have made on McGrath — by then a notorious figure — could have been highly embarrassing to elements within the force.

SEEKING JUSTICE

In the months that followed a number of high-ranking gardaí beat a path to Mary Lynch’s door, offering sympathy but little in the way of answers.

Eventually, despairing of a dearth of answers, she lodged a complaint with the garda ombudsman. By then, her complaint was out of date for investigation.

In Jan 2009, McGrath was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. The following month, he received a 10-year sentence for the robbery and false imprisonment in Tipperary. At that hearing, the court was told by Sergeant Long that McGrath had not already been on bail the previous October when he had been granted bail in Clonmel. This statement was wholly inaccurate.

A complaint to the ombudsman was also lodged by Silvia Roche Kelly’s husband, Lorcan. That investigation resulted in a recommendation of minor disciplinary action against Padraig McEvoy in Cavan and Detective Sergeant John Long in Tipperary. The Irish Examiner understands that garda commissioner Martin Callinan decided not to invoke disciplinary action against either officer.

Lorcan Roche Kelly’s solicitor, Gwen Bowen, confirmed that the family are pursuing a High Court action against the State on the basis that McGrath should never have been at large when he murdered Silvia.

A spokesman for the gardaí said any questions on the case should be directed to the GSOC as it investigated the matter. The GSOC did not publish the report on the Roche Kelly complaint, as it only does so on matters deemed to be of public interest.

In recent weeks, new evidence has come to light about Mary Lynch’s case which has prompted the garda ombudsman to re-open her complaint. It is understood that the new evidence suggests there may have been an attempted cover-up in dealing with Mary Lynch’s case.


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