The tribunal into the mysterious deaths of two Kerry babies in the 1980s resolved little and pleased nobody, writes Ryle Dwyer

THE finding of the body of the dead baby boy on a Kerry beach on April 14, 1984, was a horrific case the led to the Kerry Babies Tribunal the following year.

The newborn had been stabbed 28 times and thrown into the sea before being washed up near Cahirciveen.

Joanne Hayes had been heavily pregnant and, later, there was no sign of any baby.

Judge Kevin Lynch concluded in his tribunal report, published on October 3, 1985, that investigating “gardaí had very strong suspicions, justified by the weight of evidence then available to them, that Joanne Hayes was the mother and responsible for the death of the Cahirciveen baby”.

Ms Hayes told gardaí she had a baby and had disposed of it on her family farm, but the gardaí failed to find the body during a search.

She and members of her family confessed to involvement with the Cahirciveen baby, and they were charged.

Shortly after they had been charged, the body of a newborn baby was found on the Hayes’ farm, and the charges were dropped.

This led to serious questions about why did the Hayes family confess to the killing the Cahirciveen baby.

Some gardaí suspected that Ms Hayes may have had twins and that both were killed — one being buried on the farm and the other thrown into the sea.

The Cahirciveen baby had blood group A, while the baby found on the Abbeydorney farm had blood group O, as had Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke, the married man with whom she had been having an affair and had previously had a daughter.

Kerry babies tribunal created more questions than answers

On such medical evidence Judge Kevin Lynch, who presided at the tribunal, concluded that Ms Hayes could not have been the mother of the Cahirciveen baby. But he went on to conclude that the gardaí had not assaulted or physically abused any of the Hayes family to get any of the confessions.

When the family members were being questioned, they apparently believed they were in custody and could not leave the Garda station. Hence they signed confessions of varying degrees of involvement in the death of the Cahirciveen baby, according to Judge Lynch.

He concluded that Joanne Hayes thought a confession was her only way out, when she was unable to persuade the gardaí to take her to the farm so she could show them where she had disposed of the body of her baby.

The garda refusal “was completely unjustified” in the opinion of Judge Lynch, who criticised the initial search of the farm as “deplorably inadequate”, and he described the initial failure to find the body as “inexcusable”.

The judge concluded that Ms Hayes gave birth to the baby in her own bedroom, with the help of her aunt, a practising nurse. “The baby was not well at all,” the judge added. “It had great difficulty in breathing and although it cried it never succeeded in establishing its breathing properly.”

“Joanne Hayes’ mother, Mrs Mary Hayes, was very annoyed with Joanne Hayes and expressed her annoyance at the prospect of having to rear another child for Jeremiah Locke,” according to the tribunal report.

At this point the judge appeared to take a great leap of faith.

“Joanne Hayes got into a panic and as the baby cried again she put her hands around its neck and stopped it crying by choking it and the baby did not breathe again,” he concluded

“At some stage during the course of these events, Joanne Hayes used the bath brush from the bathroom to hit the baby to make sure that it was dead.”

Judge Lynch
Judge Lynch

But, in his testimony before the tribunal in January 1985, pathologist John Harbison testified that he could not determine that the baby had ever had a separate existence. This seemed to contradict what he told gardaí during the autopsy the previous May.

Supet John Courtney, head of the Garda murder squad, and other gardaí who were present at the autopsy, testified that Dr Harbison had told them at the time there was air in the lungs and that the baby had therefore established a separate existence. But the pathologist explained to the tribunal this was before he had examined the lung tissue microscopically.

On the basis of his microscopic examination, he concluded that breathing had not been established, and the cause of death was therefore “unascertainable”.

Dr Harbison had also said at the autopsy that a bruise on the left side of baby’s neck could have been a result of the delivery, or strangulation.

After further investigation, however, he found that there was no evidence of injury to the larynx, so he ruled out any attempted strangulation. He also dismissed the suggestion that the baby was struck on the head with bath brush, because, he said, this would almost certainly have fractured the skull, and there was no such injury.

No forensic evidence was presented to contradict the State pathologist’s findings. Thus, Judge Lynch’s graphic depiction of the killing in the Hayes bedroom had no more supporting grounds than the State’s charges against members of the family in relation to the Cahirciveen baby.

The tribunal report, which ultimately cost the exchequer over £1,645,000, resolved little and pleased nobody.


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