Controversial detectives back on the stand
Two detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation have been at the centre of the Morris Tribunal investigations recently. They were involved in obtaining a “confession” from Frank McBrearty jnr for a murder that never happened. These same detectives were also involved in previous controversial cases. By Frank Connolly
Retired Detective Inspector John Melody and Detective John Fitzpatrick interviewed Frank McBrearty jnr on 4 December, 1996 about the death of cattle dealer Richie Barron.
In January this year, they told the Morris Tribunal that McBrearty jnr signed a statement in which he admitted that he and his cousin, Mark McConnell, assaulted Richie Barron in Raphoe on the night of 14 October, 1996, which, in the circumstances, amounted to a confession to homicide. But it has since emerged that Richie Barron was neither assaulted nor murdered – rather he was injured in a hit-and-run accident. Frank McBrearty jnr has asserted consistently over the last 10 years that he made no such confession.
The issue is central to the investigations of the current module of the Morris Tribunal and remains a major issue for the Garda Síochána, since either the “confession” was fabricated or Frank McBrearty jnr was induced somehow to “confess” to a murder that never happened.
One of the other incidents involving these two detectives, then of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, occurred in May 1996, when they interviewed Hugh Byrne, 30, from Dolphin's Barn in Dublin in connection with the death of drug addict Josie Dwyer. Josie Dwyer was beaten to death by anti-drugs activists on Basin Lane earlier in that month.
Hugh Byrne, along with others, was accused of violent disorder and killing Josie Dwyer after he had attended an anti-drugs meeting. Byrne has always insisted that he was not with the group that attacked Dwyer. On 29 May 1996, Hugh Byrne was arrested and taken to Kilmainham Garda Station. He was interviewed by Detectives Melody and Fitzpatrick at 5.10pm. According to the statement compiled by the two detectives, Byrne admitted, just a few minutes after the interview commenced, to attacking Josie Dwyer.
“Hugh, you have been arrested for the murder of Josie Dwyer at Basin Lane on 14 May 1996,” Detective Sergeant Melody said.
“Yes,” replied Hugh Byrne.
“What do you have to say about it?” Melody asked.
“It went too far; he shouldn't have been killed,” Hugh Byrne said.
“Were you involved in his killing?” Melody asked.
“I admit I was at Basin Lane. I gave him a few digs but I didn't kill him,” Hugh Byrne is quoted as saying.
In the statement, he also named others allegedly present during the attack including a friend of his who was, in fact, in England at the time. When he was interviewed by two other gardaí later that evening, he was asked again about the murder. In their statement, the gardaí quote Hugh Byrne as stating, “I've nothing to say. I thought you knew that already.”
It was apparent that these detectives were not made aware of any earlier “confession”.
The notes of his interview by Detectives Melody and Fitzpatrick were unsigned.
Hugh Byrne was charged along with others with the manslaughter of Josie Dwyer. In November 1999 he pleaded not guilty to the charge at the Circuit Criminal Court. His lawyers, Diarmuid McGuinness SC and Michael O'Connor BL, challenged the admissibility of the alleged statement of admission in an application heard in the absence of the jury. Judge Dominic Lynch refused the application and allowed the statement to be heard by the jury. On hearing the evidence and the cross-examination of the two detectives, the jury did not accept that Hugh Byrne had made the confession. Byrne told the jury that Detective Sergeant Melody told him that he was going to “stitch him up”.
Byrne was acquitted on all charges against him.
Detectives Melody and Fitzpatrick also featured in the trial of four men accused of possession of explosives in north Dublin in January 1998. During the trial in the Special Criminal Court in March 1999, a lawyer for Eamon Flanagan, 43, of The Square, Skerries, claimed that Detective Fitzpatrick had not taken any notes during five interviews with his client.
The lawyer, Michael O'Higgins SC, was challenging the admissibility of statements of admission allegedly made by Eamon Flanagan while in custody. Detective Garda Fitzpatrick said that he wrote notes to two of the five interviews he and Detective Sergeant Melody had carried out with Flanagan. He denied a suggestion by Michael O'Higgins that the notes were drawn up “long after the event”. He also denied a claim that he took “not a single note” during the five interviews with Flanagan at Whitehall Garda Station and also denied that the accused had remained silent at all times during his interrogation. The detectives claimed that Flanagan admitted to loading bags containing ground-down fertiliser used to make explosives on to a lorry at Bettystown during the interviews.
Detective Sergeant Gerard McGrath, also of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who was involved in the controversy over Frank McBrearty's alleged confession, was also involved in this 1999 trial. During the trial he denied a suggestion by Anthony Sammon SC acting for Seamus McLoughlin, 67, of Balkill Park, Howth, that he and another officer, Detective Sergeant Bernie Hanley, were involved in “an elaborate series of lies” to get his client to make an admission.
Detective Sergeant McGrath, along with Detective Sergeant Eamon O'Grady, interviewed Frank McBrearty jnr immediately after he allegedly confessed to attacking Richie Barron in a statement he signed for detectives Melody and Fitzpatrick at Letterkenny Garda station on 4 December, 1996. According to evidence they gave to the Morris Tribunal in January 2007, Detectives McGrath and O'Grady said that McBrearty jnr told them he had already made a statement.
“I have already made a statement to the other two gardaí [Melody and Fitzpatrick]. I have co-operated with them. I told them the truth about what happened,” McBrearty jnr allegedly said. Frank McBrearty jnr denies that he said this to Detectives McGrath and O'Grady.
Detectives McGrath and Hanley also gave evidence in the trial of a man accused of involvement in the Omagh bombing in August 1998. They claimed that Colm Murphy admitted that his mobile phone was used by others involved in moving bombs into Northern Ireland before the Omagh atrocity.
Murphy denied making the admission but his evidence was not accepted by Judge Robert Barr in the Special Criminal Court. Judge Barr described evidence give by Detective Sergeant McGrath as truthful. “The impression he gave was one of truthfulness and reasonable intelligence,” Judge Barr said.
In 2001 the trial of the men accused of possessing explosives collapsed at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin after the prosecution decided not to proceed. There was no explanation as to why it was decided to end the trial.
The four Dublin-based detectives, Melody, Fitzpatrick, McGrath and O'Grady, gave evidence to the Morris Tribunal over a number of days in late-January about the disputed confession by Frank McBrearty jnr. Melody and Fitzpatrick insisted that McBrearty jnr made a voluntary admission of his involvement in the death of Richie Barron.
They denied claims that McBrearty jnr had been “slapped around the place” or that he had been shown post-mortem photographs of the deceased.
The alleged confession is made on a single sheet with writing on the front and back. The first page contains details of an alleged attack on Richie Barron by McBrearty jnr and his cousin. The second page contains a statement by McBrearty in which he denies that his father intimidated witnesses during the garda investigation into the death of the cattle dealer. McBrearty jnr has conceded that he may have signed this statement denying the intimidation allegations but vigorously denies signing any statement implicating him in an attack on Richie Barron.