MICHAEL CLIFFORD: 'Everybody wants justice for Mary Boyle, but that is nowhere near as simple as is portrayed in a fevered social media campaign'

EVERYBODY knows who murdered Mary Boyle. Everybody knows there was a cover-up of the killing of the six-year-old in March 1977. Everybody knows that the mainstream media is complicit in this cover-up. Everybody knows.

For anybody who has dipped into social media over the last six months, the above statements are received wisdom. The case of Mary Boyle has been highlighted in a campaign led by Mary’s twin, Ann Doherty, and the journalist Gemma O’Doherty. (To avoid confusion, the two women will be referred to here by their first names.)

Gemma had written and presented a documentary, Mary Boyle — The Untold Story, which has received tens of thousands of viewings on YouTube.

For months, she has pursued the case on social media, where her campaign has generated a major following.

The two women have received full support from Ann’s cousin, the singer Margo O’Donnell, Daniel’s sister.

A fortnight ago, apparently as a result of the pressure generated by the campaign, the Garda commissioner announced there would be a cold case review of Mary’s disappearance.

The scenario as outlined in the documentary goes something like this: Mary was sexually assaulted and murdered not too far from her grandparents’ home in south Donegal.

Following Mary’s disappearance, the investigation was compromised by intervention from a Fianna Fáil politician who phoned Ballyshannon Garda Station. This politician is alleged to have said that the man who has come to be known as the chief suspect should not be arrested.

Mary Boyle

As a result, the case was never solved, despite some “evidence” that others were aware of the chief suspect’s involvement in the crime. Since then, the main political parties have avoided examining the issue. An Garda Síochána has also avoided unearthing a scandal from the time, and the mainstream media has turned away.

It’s a compelling narrative, but what of the evidence? This has mainly come from two retired gardaí who were involved in the case. In the documentary, both express their belief that they know who killed Mary.

There is an inference that the garda who oversaw the investigation, Superintendent Dom Murray, received — or at least acted on — the call from the politician. Murray died in 2014. This allegation only surfaced after his death.

The documentary relates that in 1985, a series of complaints was made internally about Murray’s general conduct, including that he had attended a Fianna Fáil meeting, which was against Garda regulations. No documentary evidence of this complaint is produced, and neither is there any suggestion that it contained any allegation about interference in the Mary Boyle case.

Give or take a few inconsistencies elsewhere in the story, which are noteworthy but not crucial, that’s about it.

The compelling narrative centres on the alleged interference by the politician.

In recent weeks, TD Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher, and councillor Sean McEniff have both issued statements saying they are not the politician in question.

Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher

From what has emerged over recent decades about both politics and law enforcement, it is entirely plausible that a politician would have intervened in a Garda investigation in the 1970s.

It might well be argued that this could even have occurred in a case as high profile and emotional as that of a six- year-old’s disappearance.

However, the only evidence is hearsay. Neither of the two officers claims to have received the alleged call. As evidence in a criminal trial, hearsay wouldn’t carry much more weight than rumour.

So why wasn’t the suspect arrested? Perhaps there was precious little evidence gathered that could be put to him. Certainly the evidence produced in the documentary wouldn’t have met such a threshold in 1977.

Prior to the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 1984, there were strict rules around powers of arrest and detention.

In any event, one of the two gardaí in the documentary, retired detective Aidan Murray, says he interviewed the chief suspect, albeit as a witness.

“I told him, just tell us where the child is,” Murray told Gemma. The suspect began shouting that he was being wrongly blamed and an inspector nudged Murray under the table to go easy.

Murray left and returned with a drink of water, but, he says, the heat had gone out of the moment.

“I felt in my own heart he had a guilty look, I could see it in his eyes. I felt I had him and I thought if there had been that extra bit of pressure, we wouldn’t be here today,” he told Gemma.

So we have hearsay about an outrageous intervention, and a firm hunch on behalf of two gardaí. Sound familiar? Most miscarriages of justice cases down through the decades began with a “belief” as to a suspect’s guilt, without solid evidence to support the belief. In the absence of evidence, the cops go with their hunch and build a convenient case in a reverse of standard police procedure. Both retired gardaí are obviously genuine in their beliefs, but that is no substitute for evidence.

Ann’s pursuit of the matter is entirely understandable from an emotional standpoint, although notably her mother has distanced herself from the campaign. In fact, a distasteful aspect to the whole affair is an inference that Mary Boyle’s mother is not as eager to get justice for Mary, as is her twin sister.

Gemma obviously believes in her pursuit of “Justice for Mary”. Her persistence is admirable, her film well assembled, but it is heavy with innuendo and hearsay rather than hard evidence.

Just last week, she tweeted: “Gardaí refuse to arrest the chief suspect in the murder of Mary Boyle. He attended Mass this morning.” This implies that gardaí can simply make an arrest on the basis of a conspiracy theory.

What really elevated the campaign was the traction it received on social media. Curiously, members and supporters of Sinn Féin have been in the vanguard of the social media blitz.

The party professes to espouse a high threshold for civil liberties, including opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Yet its members are pushing hard for the arrest of somebody based on hearsay and police “hunch” rather than evidence.

Perhaps they are just relieved that allegations around historic murder and child sexual abuse are being directed at a political party other than theirs.

Everybody knows who murdered Mary Boyle. Everybody knows who sanctioned the murder of Jean McConville. Evidence is a different matter.

Justice for Mary would involve a successful prosecution for her disappearance and assumed murder and nothing that has emerged indicates that there would be any real prospect of such an outcome.

Perhaps the cold case review will strike lucky.

Perhaps a premise for an arrest will be found and perhaps the chief suspect may turn out to be culpable and confess. If so, a debate can be initiated about means justifying the end.

Everybody wants justice for Mary Boyle, but that is nowhere near as simple as is portrayed in a fevered social media campaign.



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