The confession of Christy lynch
The debate on the Criminal Justice Bill raises questions about the wider powers being given to the police. The powers and methods which are now being legitimised by the Bill barged their way into Christy Lynch's life and tore a family apart.
1. A Job For Mr Martin
Christy Lynch had a key, but he knocked on the door. No answer. He opened the door and went in and up the stairs: There was music coming from the bedroom, a radio playing. He had work to do but he didn't want the woman in the flat to come out and suddenly happen upon someone - give her the fright of her life. He knocked on the door. No reply. He opened the door, put his head in. Vera Cooney was dozing in bed. She sat up with a start.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm doing a job for Mr Martin ¬papering and decorating." Christy Lynch was a soldier, a gunner with the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment stationed in McKee barracks. He left national school just before turning 14 and had a year at Tech. Then he went to work in the dispatch department of the Independent. Then a series of jobs - Taylor Keith, Hely Thorn, the Corporation, a few more. He got married in 1972 and joined the army the following year. In 1974 his daughter Debbie was born. In 1976 he was 26 and living in a flat in Portmahon House, Rialto.
The flat was owned or managed by Stuart Martin of Brent Ltd, electrical manufacturers. Christy did nixers for martin, odd jobs, decorating and the like, at the flats at Portmahon House. Ear]yin September 1976 Stuart Martin asked Christy to do some wallpapering, painting and plastering at another house owned by Brent Ltd, 77 Strand Road, Sandymount. He would pay Christy £80
Around this time Christy Lynch was going through a bad patch. He was gambling a lot, on the horses and dogs. Losing part of his wages and then going out with the rest of the money, sure he could win it all back - and losing that too. It was beginning tocause trouble at home and Christy was catching on to himself.
0n September 2 or 3 Stuart Martin drove Christy out to Strand Road. On the way out he stopped and got an extra key cut. Christy would need the key as most days the house would be empty. The house was two-storey, Victorian style, in two flats. The bottom flat was empty. The top flat was occupied by Vera Cooney.
2. A Red Renault
The job began on Sunday September 5 1976. That was the morning that Vera Cooney was lying on in bed when Christy arrived. Christy worked away until about 5.30. lie was about to pack up and go home when Vera Cooney came out of her room wearing a long housecoat. She asked Christy if he'd like a cup of tea. They drank tea and talked, had a great conversa¬tion. Christy thought she was a very nice person, a bit lonely maybe, full of talk.
Vera Cooney was 51. She worked for the Dublin Gas Company and had done so for 28 years. Neighbours would say later that she didn't mix much, didn't often speak to people, but when she did she was friendly. Some thought she was a bit nervous of living alone. They said she put a "Guard Dog" sign on the gate, al¬though she had no dog.
Stuart Martin of Brent Ltd, who owned the house, was Vera Cooney's brother-in.law. Vera looked after the house and in return had the upstairs flat rent.free. She had lived there for ten years.
After that first day's work Christy Lyneh went off to the Glen of Immal with his unit. He didn't go back to 77 Strand Road until Wednesday September 15. The house was empty and he worked there all day without seeing anyone.
Saturday September 18. Christy Lyneh was a bit late getting to work at McKee barracks. He had been at the dogs in Harold's Cross the night before and had lost. He and his wife Marie had argued about what he was doing with his wages. He worked until about 12.30pm, changed into civilian clothes and walked up into town. Christy likes walking, never gets a bus, walks everywhere. It helps you think. lie visited a coin; fair in the Gresham Hotel, just for ten minutes or so. He
had an old coin and he had made enquiries about it previously and had a letter from the museum saying it was valuable. Someone at the coin fair told him to go around to "the man with the funny name in Cathedral Street". Christy went around to the eoin and medal shop run by Emil Szaver and found that the coin was worthless.
He walked on out to 77 Strand Road. This was about 1.30pm. There was no one in the house. Christy turned on the radio in Vera Cooney's room. There was something boring on the radio, something about cows, something about a fire. He turned it off. He was in a bad mood, annoyed at himself because his gambling was causing rows at home. His mind was wandering. He wasn't in the mood for working. There was an electrical cable hanging down, running across Vera Cooney's door. It was dangerous, he thought, and he took it down. That was as much work as he wanted to do that day. He pulled a few bits of wall¬paper offthe wall, picked up some screws that had fallen, cleaned up and left. It was about 2.30pm.
As he walked away from the house he saw two young men pushing a red Renault.He walked back to Rialto and went into McCauley's pub for a pint.
He walked some more, down by the canal. He sat down, sorting things out in his head about the gambling, the messing. He liked his job, liked the army life, had a fine marriage and a lovely two.year.old daughter - gamb¬ling wasn't fun any more, it was a problem. He knew the argument with Marie had been his fault. He went home. His wife was up visiting her mother. He put on the kettle and went across to the Mascot, bought a pack of cigarettes and two birthday cards. His father's birthday was next day ¬one card from himself and Marie, one from little Debbie. After a cup of tea he went up to see his father, who was in bad health. That evening he also met Eugene Delamere, aged 18, a friend who had helped him on a couple of previous nixers. He'd be doing the stairs at 77 Strand Road next day, would Eugene give him a hand with the ladder? They agreed to meet at II am next day.
Christy got home that night before 9pm. His wife was there. He had wanted to get home in time for a gramme he liked. Starsky and Hutch.
There was a message on the patrol car radio. Report of a body found. Strand Road. Sandymount, number 77. Garda Martin Hynes was driving, Garda John Dineen took the call. It was shortly after noon on Sunday September 19.
The house was on a corner on the seafront. The ESB station out there just across the water. There was an ambu¬lance there when the two gardai arrived. The two ambulance men from the fire brigade were inside the house, with Christy Lynch and Eogene Delamere.
Garda Dineen spoke to Lynch. Lynch told him that he and Delamere had come here to do some wallpapering and found the body. "It was an awful thing to come across," he said. Garda Hynes asked Lynch to come upstairs and look at the body. Lynch was reloctant at first but went up any¬way. He appeared shocked and was very pale. He asked if he could get some fresh air.
Christy Lynch had left home that morning at about 11 o'clock to meet Eogene Delamere and go to Strand Road. They got there at around noon. Christy opened the door and Eugene went in first, a step or two ahead, in and up the stairs. Eugene stopped. There was something at the top of the stairs, legs and hands. Lynch, looking past Delamere, could see the body, something covering the head. They went on up, Lynch first. There was a qoilt or bedspread of some kind covering the head. Lynch bent down and pulled it away. There was a knife sticking out of Vera Cooney's chest. Both men turned and ran down the stairs.
Delamere got to the door first and opened it. Lynch called him back. They should call someone, call the police. There was a phone in the hall and Lynch rang 999. He cooldn't get through. He handed the phone to Delamere. "You hold the phone, ring 999 again, dial again. I'm going up to see is there anything I can do." Lynch went back up the stairs. Vera Cooney was dead, no question.
Down in the hallway Eugene Delamere dialled 999, then dropped the phone in panic. He thought there might be a madman in the house. Lynch came down and called for the police and ambulance.When the ambulance came up Gilford Road and around into Strand Road Eugene Delamere was standing at the corner, waving, this way, over here. Christy Lynch was standing at the gate. The gardai arrived then and after a while there was quite a few of them. Lynch and Delamere were asked to come down to lrishtown garda station and make statements on finding the body. They got a lift down from a Sergeant Sweeney. When they got to the station Sergeant Sweeney got them water, two or three cups each.
4. Heavy Days
The week before Vera Cooney was murdered was an event. ful one. There was continuing controversy about an inter. view Conor Cruise O'Brien had given to the Washington Post in which he revealed that he had been keeping a me of letters published in the Irish Press and, no, he couldn't do much about the people writing the letters, but maybe .the editor, Tim Pat Coogan, might find himself in a good Ii position to do the inside story on Mountjoy. RTE scrapped 7 Days that week and there was much speculation as to why this had been done. The day before Vera Cooney was murdered, Friday 17, Fianna Fail announced its plans to rut taxes. There was an economic emergency, they said, and as soon as they got back into power they would put the country back on its feet.
There was even bigger news that day. President 0 Dalaigh caned a meeting of the Council of State. He wasn't happy with the Emergency Powers Bill which the government was bringing in. He wanted to refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. This was the action which would lead tn the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan, publicly insulting the President in front of units of the army, the Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave standing by his Minister and the President resigning.
The Emergency Powers Bill was one of those pieces of legislation that was going to smash the IRA, attack the rising crime rate and enable the citizens to sleep easier in ilieir beds. Such Bills were brought in every now and then after some atrocity caused public disquiet. Demands would be made for something to be done and the politicians would draw up yet another Bill to take the handcuffs off the police and let them get at the criminals. The murder of the British Ambassador had given rise to this latest Bill.
This was a truly spectacular production. It involved deciaring that a State of Emergency existed in the Republic. This meant that the State of Emergency declared in 1939 IOd existing for nearly forty years would have to be de¬clared over and a new Emergency declared. It also more than hinted at government curbs on the press. This was not academic: Hibernia, the Irish Times and the Irish Press all found themselves in court during that period charged with printing matter that cast doubts on the behaviour of the police and the Special Criminal Court.
The most contentious clause in the new Bill was the proposal to allow the gardai arrest and detain peopie for seven days. They need only have a "reasonable suspicion" that those people had been up to no good. It was believed - not widely, but by a considerable number of lawyers, journalists and others who in the course of their work came into contact with republicans - that the seven-day deten¬tion was designed to allow a lengthy period for the bruises to fade after suspects had been interrogated in the first 48 hours. The belief was based on experience.
An informal but identifiable group of gardai had been fomled unofficially. These were known to their coIleagues as The Heavy Gang. In February 1977 the Irish Times would describe them thus: "The nucleus of the 'Heavy Gang' comprises plainclothes detectives drawn from the investigative section of the Garda Technical Bureau. They are assisted at times by members of the Special Branch and other units of the force, directed by some officers of C4, the official title of the Technical Bureau. They operate from a base at the Technical Bureau headquarters in St John's Road, Kingsbridge, Dublin, and act as a flying squad travelling to all parts of the country. Local uniformed gardai rarely participate in their interrogations." This group systematically extracted "confessions" from suspects. They used violence and various forms of pressure including depri¬vation of sleep, threats, isolation from outside contact, the Mutt and Jeff routine (nice cop, nasty cop, alternating) and anything else that came in handy. They were untrained, unsubtle, brutal and inefficient.
Lots of people had known about this for some time. In April 1976 the Sunday Independent had even carried aninterview with an anonymous member of the Heavy Gang."There is nothing sinister in what we do", he said. "We know they are guilty. We also know that evidence must be produced for the Court and often that evidence is not there. Our job is to find out the truth. There is only one way these fellows understand. There is no use treating them with kid gloves. We never use instruments. We are doing ajob for law-abiding citizens."There was no secret about the Heavy Gang, it was just that mostly the allegations about them seemed to come from individuals who would themselves have little com¬punction about punching your ticket if they thought that was what the occasion called for. Government Ministers made it clear that anyone casting aspersions on the policewas a Provo or a Provo fellow-traveller. Most people dis¬creetly and prudently found something else to be concern.ed about and the few voices raised to suggest that thismight not be the most democratic way to run a country were dismissed or quickly stilled.It was a time when Dublin Corporation hired a man with a little three.wheel van to go around the city pasting brown paper over the political posters. It was called Keeping Dublin Tidy.
The thing that nobody seemed to notice was that emergency laws didn't work. There were more gardai, with wider powers, but crime kept rising. From the begin¬ning of the 1970s there was a truly dramatic fall in the rates of detection. As the emergency laws multiplied, the tradi. tional scientific methods of police work took second place. Short cuts became routine. By the late 1970s the Barra o Briain Commission would be told that 80% of convictions for serious crimes were being secured by confessions. In short, the politicians' response to crime had produced apolice force that wasn't very good at police work but was a dab hand at getting people to "confess".It was in this atmosphere that the investigation into themurder of Vera Cooney took place.There was a lot going on that week, few paid muchattention to the discovery of the body. The Irish Press and Irish Times carried short mentions of the murder on Monday September 20. The Independent made the most of it. Front page, above the fold, large type: "Gruesome Bedroom Murder". The opening paragraph read: "The brutal murderof a forty.year.old blonde spinster in her Sandymount,Dublin, home yesterday morning is baffling gardai." Wrong and wrong. She was 51, the murder was the day before yesterday and gardai weren't baffled at all. The case was a cinch.
5. Helping The Police With Their Inquiries
Vera Cooney died hard. She was strangled first and there were scratches on her neck where she apparently tried to pull at the thing that was choking her. The strangling didn't kill her. She was still alive and she was stabbed three times in the chest. The third thrust was so powerful that the state pathologist had to straddle the body on his knees and use a pliers to extract the knife. Medical evidence could only establish that she had died some time between 9am and 9pm on Saturday, the day before her body was found no fingerprints were found in the house, apart from Vera Cooney's. There was a considerable sum of money left untouched in the downstairs flat. Nothing had been stolen or interfered with. Abathroom window was open,but it was a difficult way to get in. Three people had keys to the house: Vera Cooney, Stuart Martin and Christy Lynch.After spending some time at the garda station Christy Lynch and Eugene Delamere were asked to come back at 4pm and make their statements. Lynch knew his wife would be visiting her mother, and anyway it was his father's birthday, so he went to his parents' home. He them what had happened.
Then, back to Irish town garda station at 4pm. Christy Lynch had never been involved in a policy inquiry before.He had no police record and couldn't remember ever being in a police station. He was asked to give his fingerprints and did so. He knew they did that for elimination purposes.The police gave him tea. There were sandwiches, but he was too upset to cat. The statement was read back to him and he signed it. Over four years later the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Tom O'Higgins, would say that at that stage "one would have expected in such circumstances that (Lynch) would have been thanked for his cooperation andencouraged to go home to his wife and family." Garda evidence would later be that at that stage and for a long time afterwards there wasn't the slightest suspicion that Christy Lynch had been involved in the death of Vera Cooney.
Is that okay now?" asked Christy Lynch. "Can I go?""There might be a few more things we will have to go over", said a garda. In theory, Christy Lynch could have walked right out
the door and there wasn't a thing the police could do to stop him. You'd want to know your law to feel confident about doing that - and you'd be less than a good citizen if you didn't do everything possible to help the police in their inquiries. Christy Lynch didn't know that much about the law - and, besides, he was a good citizen, a soldier of the state, a member of the security forces that Ministers get dewy-eyed about when they talk of holding the fabric
of society together.Christy Lynch stayed. You want help, game ball, anything I can do.
Eugene Delamere's statement was taken and he too stayed on or was kept in the station for several more hours. He began falling asleep. He was awakened by the sound of Christy Lynch shouting from somewhere in the station, "I didn't do it."
6. Phone Calls
Marie Lynch left her flat in Portmahon House, R;alto, and went to a phone box. It was about 10pm that Sunday night..She had returned from her mother's house at about 6pm.
An hour later, Brendan Lynch, Christy's brother, called round and told her about Christy finding a body and being down at the station in Irishtown. He had visited his parents earlier that day and they had told him. At about 530pm his mother had asked him to ring the station and find out when Christy was coming home. He did so and was told it would be sometime later. He gave Marie the number of the station.Marie rang the number from the phone box. Yes, Christy .Lynch' was there. Could I speak to him? Hold on a minute.
There was a pause - yes, you can, hold on. . . .At the station, Christy Lynch was told his wife wanted to speak to him. He was taken to a phone and picked it up. Hello? The phone went dead. Back in the phone box. "I'm sorry, Mrs Lynch, you may not speak to your husband, he's being questioned." Is he coming home? Could you let me know for definite? Couldn't say. Will you send someone out and tell me if Christy isn't coming home?Marie Lynch stayed up until 3am. No sign of Christy.In court, the gardai would deny that any such callswere made. They had the station log book to confirm this. No such calls. Not even the one that Brendan Lynch made from Sundrive Road garda station. He had gone there some time that night, said he couldn't get through, would the garda there ring for him? Sure, no bother. The garda rang. The garda swore in court that he rang. There was no record of the call.
It was cold. This new room hadn't had the heating on. The gardai had just got the keys to it and one of them was bringing Christy Lynch in. Christy had been in this room and that, this garda coming, that one going, sit down there a minute, come on out here. Anywhere he went there was a garda with him. He went to the toilet, there was a garda. Now, in the cold ropm, he had just come in, he waS pulling his coat around him, the garda who had brought him in turned around and said, "Why did you do it?"
Christy looked at him. "What?" "Forget it", said the garda.Various gardai would swear in court that Christy Lynch stayed in the station voluntarily, that he underwent all that followed of his own free will. At no stage, they would swear, did Christy Lynch ask to go home.The events of that night and the next morning as described here are from Christy Lynch's point of view, as taken from various transcripts, summaries, press reports and interviews with people present at the trials that followed. All allegations have been denied on oath by the gardai con. cerned. Christy Lynch had made his initial statement and they were asking him questions about it, just chatting.
It is midnight. Perhaps. Christy Lynch doesn't have a watch. He has lost track of time. Before this is over he will see dark outside the window and see light outside the win. dow and make a guess. It is, he thinks, about midnight. It is eight hours since he came to the station, twelve hours since he found the body.
"Why did you do it, Christy?"
At first it was can I go now, are you finished - just a few more minutes, Christy. Now he is, according to his testimony, insisting that he wants to go home."Why did you do it, Christy?
At 1:30am detective Inspector John Courtney and Detective Sergeant Michael Canavan arrived.
According to Christy Lynch's evidence, the two detectives sat him down, one on each side of him and told him they wanted a statement admitting to the murder. Courtney and Canavan denied this in court.
"We are the special boys", said Courtney, according to Christy, "we're experienced at gctting confessions. We've handled dozens of murders and know a murderer just by looking at him." Courtney denied this.
Christy said in court that he was called a murdering bastard, that Canavan said his fingerprints had been found on the knife. "Did you touch the knife when you found the body?" Christy saw this as a ploy, an offer of a way to get himself off the hook, to say he touched the knife when he found the body so it would look like he had reason to fw his fingerprints were on the knife and he was trying to ex. plain them away. He knew he hadn't touched the knife. Sergeant Canavan denied that all this happened.
It is now 3am. Courtney and Canavan leave and are replaced by Detective Inspector Finlay. He is friendly, a father figure is Christy's description, and he looks a bit like Christy's father. It is eleven hours since Christy came to the station, fifteen hours since he found the body.
According to Christy's evidence the conversation went like this.
"If you tell me, Christy, I'll help you. If you confess to me about this I'll personally try and get you down for two or three years. If not - we will prove you guilty anyway and get you ten or fifteen years."
"Inspector Finlay, I didn't do it. I never harmed anybody in my life."
"If I walk out that door now I will be finished with you. There's nothing I can do for you to help you."
Christy asked were his fingerprints on the knife, like Canavan had said.
"Well, I couldn't say at this stage."
Christy had mentioned earlier that his father was ill.Finlay now said, "A long drawn -out trial would kill your father, and if you admit to being guilty the trial will be 0'" in a couple of days. There will be no notice in the paper and it won't affect your father at aIL"Later."Is there any chance of getting out of here?"
"No, you won't be able to leave for a while yet." Inspector Finlay denied in court that any of this happened.
It is now 4am. It is twelve hours since Christy came to the station, sixteen hours since he found the body. Finlay leaves. Courtney and Canavan come back.
It is 10am on Monday September 20. It is sixteen hours since Christy Lynch came to Irishtown garda station. It is twenty hours since he found Vera Cooney's body. He has not slept. He has not been out of sight of a garda in all the time. He has not been in contact with any relatives, friends or solicitors. According to him he is being held against his will and has been constantly subjected to demands that he confess to the murder. According to the gardai he is there voluntarily, can leave at any time, but doesn't choose to do so. He is merely being asked to expand on his original statement. Inspector Courtney will say that they talked about his family, army life, things in general.
Between 4am and 6am he was questioned by Courtney and Canavan. Then there was a twenty-minute break. Then they came back again and stayed until 8.30am.
Christy's evidence covering part of this period is as follows. "When I replied to Inspector Courtney's accusation that I was a murdering bastard he gave me a dig in the side, because I said a man is innocent until proven guilty.
And after Inspector Finlay left they had stripped me off down to my vest and underpants and they made me stand to attention just out from the wall - and I couldn't lean back aga!nst it and they stood on each side and I was like that for about two hours. And when I swayed they pun¬ched me to the left and I would go across and they would punch me back to the right and they pushed me back and forth between the pair of them all night." They also, he said, asked him questions about his sex life and made re¬marks about his body.
In court, Lynch's lawyer, Diarmud O'Donovan, would say to Courtney, "I suggest to you there was a concerted conspiracy between you and Sergeant Canavan to get a confession out of the accused.' Courtney replied.
"That is not correct."
"Were ribald remarks made about the accused man's sexual powers?"
"Nothing like that was said at all."
"Did you hH him during the interview?"
"I certainly did not."
Sergeant Canavan also denied that this happened.
Why didn't Christy Lynch ask for a solicitor? It's the kind of thing everybody is supposed to know you can do. The onus is on the untrained to learn their rights from some source or other and be sufficiently confident of those rights to insist on them - rather than on the onus being on the state to ensure sufficient safeguards are there, In the first trial, Judge Butler seemed to think that everyone should know their rights.
"Do you watch television?"
"I do, my lord."
"Do you look at it, do you look at Z Cars Task Force?"
"Or even Kojak?"
"I look at Starsky and Hutch."
But that's all over now, It is 10am, Inspector Courtney and Sergeant Canavan have gone. When they were leaving, according to Christy, one of them said, "We will be back tonight, and tomorrow night, and the next night, until we get a confession out of you," This was also denied in court by the gardai.
But it is 10am, a long night over. It's a new day, People will be looking for him. Lynch is taken from Irish¬town garda station and driven to Donnybrook garda station, The questioning continues.
9. The Independent
Another two hours, one garda, another garda, Admit it for your own good. You just picked up the knife and stabbed her, isn't that right? No, says a garda, he strangled Strangled? Christy had seen the knife. He didn't know about the strangling. It is now twelve noon, Monday September 20. It is twenty hours since Christy Lynch came to make a statement. It is twenty-four hours since he found the body. Another two hours coming up.
It was around then, noon, that Marie Lynch arrived at Donnybrook garda station with two-year-old Debbie. She asked if she could see Christy. Not now, he's being ques¬tioned.
Would you like something to eat?
They brought some cakes for Debbie.
Your wife is outside, Chisty.
You won't see anyone until you admit to murderingMiss Cooney.
I can say yes, I can say I did it. It will all come out, if it goes to court, they'll know I didn't do it. I'll tell them about all this and they'll know I just said it.
Anyway, Christy, your wife doesn't want to see you until you confess.
Jesus, what are they after telling Marie, what is she thinking?
Admit to it, Christy.
Back tonight. And tomorrow night. And the next night.
Why did you do it, Christy?
Come on, Christy.
Two or three years. Ten or fifteen years.
At some point during this two hours of questioning, noon to 2pm, Christy Lynch was left alone for ten minutes. There was a copy of the lrish independent in the room. The front page carried prominently a. story on the murder. The story was hopelessly inaccurate. It got Vera Cooney's age wrong and got the day of the murder wrong. It said the body was found in the bedroom - the body was found on the landing. It said that no knife was found - the knife was all too prominent at the scene. It said it was a three-storey house. It said that two workmen had been unable to gain entry and called the police who opened the door with a master key. It said Vera Cooney was dressed as if ready to go to Mass - she died on Saturday and the evidence was that she was getting ready for bed. None of this mattered. What mattered was a sentence which read: "There were stab wounds in the woman's chest and a cord was fastened around her neck."
It is 2pm. Shortly after Christy Lynch has read the story in the Independent. "I killed Vera Cooney", he says, "I did it with a bit of a cable. I stabbed her with a knife from the kitchen table."
Vera Cooney wasn't strangled with a cord or a cable. She was strangled with a scarf.
It is shortly after 2pm. Christy agrees to make a statement. Inspector Finlay suggests he get some sleep. Twenty¬ two hours after he went to Irishtown garda station, twenty¬ six hours after he found the body, Christy Lynch sleeps.
10. Trials and Errors
Central Criminal Court, May 27 1977, eight months after the murder of Vera Cooney. The trial had lasted five days. The jury was out for four hours. They came back at 10pm and found Christopher Anthony Lynch guilty of the mur¬der of Veronica Frances Cooney. Judge Butler sentenced him to penal servitude for life.
In the body of the court Marie Lynch screamed. She had to be helped from the court by Brendan Lynch.Christy Lynch was taken to Mountjoy prison. In Decem¬ber the Court of Criminal Appeal set aside his conviction and ordered a new trial. Christy was released a couple of days before Christmas.
The new trial took place in April 1978 and lasted thir¬teen days, ever a three-week period. Just as in the first trial, there were lengthy legal arguments about the admissibility of Lynch's confession. These statements were the only evidence against him. Judge D'Arcy admitted them, Lynch was again found guilty and again sentenced to penal servi¬tude for life.
The statements were many and varied. Once Christy agreed to talk he talked and talked.
Some parts of the con¬fession, he said in court, came from what he had been told by gardai, other parts from what he had seen at the house, other parts from the Independent.
"How many times did you stab her?"
"No, you stabbed her three times."
"Well, if that's what happened, it must have happened."
He talked of strangling Vera Cooney with a cord or a cable or something.
"No. this is what was used", holding up a scarf.
This is Christy's version. The gardai denied it in court and said he made a straight confession.
Mountjoy was cold. What you do is take the two metal bowls and fill them with hot water. Put one on top of the bed - that warms the bed a bit. Put the other under the table, the heat from that takes the chill off your feet. Pull a blanket around you and eat your food. In Mountjoy you don't blow on your food to cool it, you blow on it to heat it up.
After a while, he was sent to Arbour Hill. That was much easier. It wasn't cold for a start. Marie had become pregnant again while Christy was between trials. She never brought Debbie up to Mountjoy, but then the kid began fretting for her father so Marie started bringing her up when Christy went in again.
The army had been good in all this. Officers appeared as character witnesses, Marie got £12 a week from the army on top of her Prisoner's Wife's Allowance. There was a collection at Christmas.Christy kept thinking this had to end, there had to be some kind of justice. It seemed that his rights to appeal had been exhausted, but the case was sent to the Supreme Court. There was some question about whether that court had jurisdiction for a direct appeal from the Central Criminal Court. The court seemed reluctant to take the case, possibly fearing a flood of such cases. Christy was receiving free legal aid, but that would not apply in such an appeal. His barrister, Diarmud O'Donovan, had resolved to take the case as far as possible, regardless of fees, but in the event the costs were indemnified and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case. Meanwhile, Christy got on with life in jail. Marie, Debbie and the new child, Paul, born in 1978, got on with living outside.
Christy held up well, maybe it was the army discipline. More than once when doing hard time was getting to a prisoner, a prison officer would suggest he go down and have a chat with Christy. A senior prison officer at Arbour Hill told Christy's parents that a lot of prisoners say they're innocent, but Christy was the first one he had really be. lieved was innocent.
Christy's father was dying of cancer. Once a month Christy was allowed out under escort to visit his father. His father told him he'd live to see his son cleared. That year, 1978, turned into 1979, and that turned into 1980. Christy's new son, Paul, was one and then two years old and Christy hadn't seen him. Debbie was five and then six. Christy was missing important years.
December 16 1980. Christy was working in the printshop. He had first done a year and a half at carpentry in. Arbour Hill, then changed to the printing. When he was in his teens he worked for Smurfits in Clonskeagh. About 4.15pm, ten minutes or so before knocking off, a prison officer named McCann, a sound man, called Christy, told him to come back to his cell.
"Get your things together." Smile.
"You're cleared, you're acquitted. The Supreme Coun gave its decision today,"
Christy Lynch's father died six months later.
Chief Justice O'Higgins (sitting with Justices Walsh and Kenny) said in his ruling: "The fact that for almost 22 hours the appellant was subjected to sustained questioning, that he never had the opportunity of communicating with his family or friends, and that he never was permitted to rest or sleep until he made an admission of guilt, all amount to such circumstances of harassment and oppression as to make it unjust and unfair to admit in evidence anything he said." And since there was no evidence against him apart from his own statements, Christy was declared not guilty and released.
Chief Justice O'Higgins raised a crucial point about the function of the courts in protecting the rights of citizens. Quoting Chief Justice Earl Warren of the US Supreme Court, he said, "A ruling admitting evidence in a criminal trial, we recognise, has the necessary effect of legitimizing the conduct which produced the evidence." To permit the use of evidence improperly obtained would make the courts party to that invasion of rights.
So far, it's the kind of decision that might have gardai slamming their desks and muttering through gritted teeth about pansy judges who don't know what it's like in the real world. He did it, didn't he? He admitted it. Okay, so the gardai bent the rules a little bit - so what? Go ahead and call it oppression and harassment, but he spilled the beans, there was no other way. Poor Vera Cooney, quiet, inoffensive and horribly dead. No one cares about the vic. tims. Constitutional rights, technicalities, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? And a self-confessed mur¬derer walks free. He did it, didn't he? Everything points to that.
Everything except the evidence.
Policework in serious crime in Ireland in the 1980s follows two distinct and occasionally conflicting courses. The domi¬nant trend is towards the use of confession-extracting as a primary investigatory tool. The other course is the old¬fashioned one where the police go out, just like Kojak, and talk to a lot of people and gather as much evidence and information about crimes as is possible.
For instance, Christy Lynch was wrong when he thought he saw two young men pushing a red Renault outside 77 Strand Road at about 2.30pm that Saturday when he left the house. He mentioned it in his initial statement. He couldn't have known that this would be significant, he couldn't know that the ordinary coppers plodding their patient way would find the two people with the red Renault.
They were not two men, they were a man and a woman. And they confirmed that they had been pushing the car there at that time. This seemed to corroborate Christy's confession.
He had indeed left the house at that time. He could not have seen the car from the house, there being no window on the Gilford Road side. Except - his confession was that he left the house at 2.30 having murdered Vera Cooney. And the plodding coppers had turned up three unconnected and disinterested witnesses who saw Vera Cooney alive at 4pm.
So, it is established beyond a reasonable doubt that he left the house at 2.30 and that Vera Cooney was alive at 4pm. Did he come back? Why? There is not the slightest evidence of that - not even in the confession. Then there was the cord/cable/scarf business. Motive. The confession tells it that Christy is in the flat, reading a book or poking around the bookshelves - the im¬plication being he's looking for money - when he turns around and Vera Cooney is standing there. He grabs a scarf and strangles her.But, if she has just come in, how come she is wearingslippers, carrying her pyjamas, obviously preparing for bed?
The confession just doesn't square with the available facts. These discrepancies were pointed out by Justices O'Higgjns and Walsh. The discrepancies were there during the two trials - but they were outweighed by the graphic confession. Who could believe that an innocent man would admit to murder?
1 3. Criminal Justice
Although the Supreme Court pointed out the holes in Christy Lynch's confession, his release was due to the ir¬regularities through which the confession was obtained. Those irregularities are about to be legalised under the Criminal Justice Bill. In future there will be no question about whether a person stays in a garda station voluntarily or otherwise. All the police need do is find that they have a "reasonable suspicion" that that person is up to no good.
The person can be held for twelve straight hours. If night¬time intrudes, add on eight hours for sleeping.
That last bit is supposedly a safeguard. When Christy Lynch broke and agreed to talk he was allowed four hours sleep. He slept for two or two and a half hours. Given the circumstances he found it hard to sleep. There was always someone in the room. Gardai came and went, doors were slammed.
For the eight hours a suspect can spend sleeping in a station there is no law that says the gardai must keep their voices down or close doors carefully. Christy Lynch found that after the long period without sleep the couple of hours of broken sleep he got made him worse off than before. There is nothing in the Bill to ensure that the phenomenan of the phone calls that didn't happen is not a routine feature.
Christy Lynch was a victim of the political policy of facilitating confession-extracting as the main investigatory tool.
The Criminal Justice Bill, in its expansion of the righl to detain, its abolition of the right to silence, its right to "draw inferences", its alibi section, its vagueness about the right to see a solicitor, is the latest endorsement of the methods and means which tore the Lynch family apart. Traditional and scientific policing methods are difficult to legislate for, they are expensive and they don't have that "doing something" aura which looks so good on an election manifesto.
Christy Lynch is back in the army, enjoying the life. When he came out of jail he got his back pay. He and Marie then had to repay the money she got from the state and from the army. He hasn't sought compensation - he just can't bear the thought of going near a court again. Marie has written to the Minister for Justice a couple of times and got I'll-look-into-it replies. Nothing.
Christy has always got on well with the gardai. He knows a lot of them from doing border duty. He recognises the differences between the ordinary copper and the special boys. Although he won't go near a court again Marie has gone down to the courts several times, fascinated by the difference between the popular conception of law and order and her own experience of it. A couple of times shehas heard lawyers arguing points and mentioning "the Lynch case". The case is recognised in legal circles as an important one. It is one reason why a lot of lawyers have reservations about the Criminal Justice Bill. Had the Sup¬reme Court not taken the case, which they might not have done, Christy Lynch would still be in prison.
Some day, when the kids grow older, Christy and Marie will sit them down and tell them what happened to the family. They're too young now, but some day, and better they hear it at home than elsewhere. Christy can hold his head up and talk openly about his experience. Because of his army job he prefers not to talk to the media, but Marie can speak freely. Christy doesn't do horses or dogs any¬more, he does crosswords. And he smokes roll-up cigarettes. A habit he picked up in prison.