He was left with a conundrum: How do you disprove an allegation of historic sexual abuse, writes Michael Clifford
FRANK Mullen died last Sunday before he could clear his name. For more than the last 10 years of his life, he had been haunted by allegations of the terrible crimes. He had been accused of involvement in a paedophile ring, covering up the murder of a newborn baby, and even being responsible for killing a family of 13 in a work of arson.
Getting away with one of these crimes would be a travesty of justice. Cheating the law on all of them might require the guile of a criminal mastermind and the psyche of a monster. Would somebody like that then spend his last years on earth stressed beyond reason in chasing vindication, seeking some natural justice, as he saw it?
Mr Mullen served in An Garda Síochána for 27 years, until 1985, and was one of the founders of the Garda Representative Association. He was accused of a litany of crimes by Cynthia Owen, a woman who had a harrowing upbringing. More than 20 years ago she began relating how she had been sexually abused in her home in Dalkey while growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. She claimed to have given birth as a result of rape when she was aged 11.
In 2005, a coroner’s court ruled that she was the mother of a baby who had been found murdered in Dún Laoghaire in 1973.
Her parents, now both deceased, had vehemently denied Ms Owen’s claims.
Two of Ms Owen’s siblings took their own lives in adulthood. All of the evidence suggests that she grew up in a highly dysfunctional family where sexual abuse was prevalent.
Mr Mullen entered her story when she claimed that she had also been abused outside the home by an alleged paedophile ring of prominent figures in Dalkey. In her account, she was hired out to these men by her father. The abuse allegedly included being “brought to Dalkey Island on two or three times where she was abused in a ‘satanic’ way. There were goats involved in the ritual,” according to a HSE summation of the allegations.
Seven of the 12 she named are now deceased. Mr Mullen was named by Ms Owen as a main mover in this group. No other person has come forward to claim to have been a victim of the alleged ring.
Since Ms Owen first made her allegations her story has been in and out of the media and the political stage. She has written a book about her life. Mr Mullen wasn’t named publicly by her — apart from a brief period on her Facebook page — but everybody in Dalkey, and many beyond, knew to whom she was referring.
The HSE found that in an interview she was “credible and consistent”. The DPP repeatedly examined whether there was a case against Mr Mullen and each time decided no prosecution was warranted.
An independent review, ordered by then justice minister Michael McDowell, was conducted in 2005. The report was not published but Ms Owen’s solicitor was given sight of it. Mr Mullen’s solicitor did not get access, but he received a letter on foot of his request.
“The report has made no findings nor expressed any reservation that reflect in any way whatsoever on the good character of your client,” stated the letter.
Other allegations against Mr Mullen surfaced later. A few years ago, Ms Owen passed onto the gardaí an allegation which she said came from a man who had survived a fire in Dalkey in March 1974. Thirteen members of the Howard family perished in the fire, but Ms Owen claimed that one survivor, Anthony Howard, had told her that Mr Mullen was behind the fire and had threatened to kill him in its aftermath. Mr Howard died before he could be interviewed by the gardaí.
The crimes alleged are terrible by any standard. Mr Mullen and Ms Owen have irreconcilable versions of the facts. Let’s look for a minute at the whole affair from Mr Mullen’s perspective. He said he was innocent and wronged, that the allegations have absolutely no substance.
He was left with a conundrum: How do you disprove an allegation of historic sexual abuse? Recently, in a different context at the Charleton tribunal, it was suggested that that kind of allegation is “undisprovable”.
There is no forensic evidence. There are no witnesses. In most cases the circumstantial evidence is threadbare. To a large extent it is entirely down to the word of the alleged perpetrator and alleged victim. This makes an allegation difficult to prove for a criminal prosecution, but at least as difficult to disprove in the court of public opinion.
Mr Mullen did gather some evidence which he said disproved some of Ms Owen’s facts. But the historic nature of the allegations ensured that such investigations were always unlikely to yield anything definitive.
There is rarely much help for somebody trying to disprove these kinds of allegations. Not from politicians, for whom the cause could easily lose votes.
Most of the media shy away also. Everybody is acutely aware of the history of a failure to listen to abuse victims.
In this case, the fact that Ms Owen almost certainly was subjected to terrible abuse renders her such a victim. To question even some of her story is to risk being accused of reverting to the dark days of cover-up.
An Garda Síochána also has baggage when it comes to a historic failure to properly investigate child sexual abuse. Mr Mullen believed the gardaí weren’t giving him a break in his attempt to clear his name. That hurt after his service to the organisation, and particularly his involvement in setting up the GRA for rank and file members.
His wife Ellen and three grown children were a rock. Some close friends and retired members also stuck by him, but he remained haunted by the spectre that through some eyes he was guilty of the most grievous crimes.
Last year I interviewed Ellen and Frank for this newspaper. He hoped the exposure of his side of the story would rebalance, as he saw it, the totally skewed coverage of the allegations.
The chance to tell his side of the story provided temporary relief. In recent months, he had taken to calling me again, seeing what more might be done to put it out there that he was innocent.
On Sunday, he died at the age of 73 without his name being cleared. He had been in hospital for two weeks prior to his death.
At this stage it is highly unlikely that evidence will ever be uncovered to definitively confirm or reject the allegations that Ms Owen made about Mr Mullen.
Independent of these allegations, it would certainly appear that Ms Owen was done a most grievous wrong in her childhood years.
But if proof ever were to emerge that Mr Mullen was done a wrong in his declining years, it is unthinkable to reflect on how that must have felt as life ebbed away and he knew he wouldn’t live to see his name cleared.
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