Crimeline featured Donegal
Claims were made at the Morris Tribunal that gardaí rigged evidence presented on Crimeline which connected the McBreartys' nightclub with Richie Barron's death, writes John Byrne
On November 12 1996, Superintendent John Fitzgerald was interviewed about the the death of a Donegal cattle dealer on RTÉ's Crimeline programme.
Richie Barron had been found dead on the side of the road, just outside Raphoe, Co Donegal in the early hours of Sunday October 14. He died as a result of severe head injuries. Gardai initially believed it to be a hit and run incident, but after a few days they began to suspect that Barron had been murdered.
Their widely discredited investigation, which lead to two local men, Frank McBrearty Junior and Mark McConnell becoming prime suspects for the murder of Mr Barron, would ultimately become one of the main focal points of the Morris Tribunal, set up to investigate allegations of corrupt conduct by certain members of the Donegal gardaí.
Supt Fitzgerald was not the only member of the team that investigated Barron's death on Crimeline that night. Among the gardaí visible in the background was Garda John O'Dowd, who subsequently admitted that a call was made from his house to intimidate a witness during the investigation, and Garda Phil Collins, who was also centrally involved in the investigation.
In the interview, Supt Fitzgerald explained that following an examination of the crime scene, forensic evidence and a post-mortem, the gardaí believed that Barron "may have been the victim of a savage beating". He outlined what escape routes his "assailants" might have taken. While Supt Fitzgerald was speaking, a graphic appeared on-screen (see right). An X marked the spot of Barron's death, and for most of the discussion, an arrow pointed towards Franky's Nightclub, which the McBreartys own.
Independent experts have since stated that it is extremely unlikely that Barron was assaulted at all, instead agreeing that he most likely died as a result of a hit and run accident.
At the Morris tribunal, it was put to Supt Fitzgerald that this arrow insinuated to viewers that that whoever had murdered Mr Barron had escaped into McBrearty's nightclub afterwards.
The chairman, Justice Frederick
Morris: It is suggested to you that it [the arrow] is so created to carry an innuendo...that the culprits found their way back into Mr McBrearty's nightclub. Do you know anything about how that map came about?
Supt Fitzgerald: No, I don't.
Chairman: The people in RTÉ didn't dream up all of this, they must have got their information from somewhere.
Supt Fitzgerald: But of course.
Chairman: Where did they get it from?
Supt Fitzgerald: They would have got it from the gardaí ...
Chairman: In particular who?...I mean can I point out to you it was you and Garda O'Dowd who went up for this. Isn't that right?
Supt Fitzgerald: There was a number of gardaí who went up for this, quite a number of gardaí went up for this...I went up for this, Inspector McGinley, Garda O'Dowd, Garda Fowley, there other guards there as well.
Chairman: All right. So may we take it and may Mr McBrearty take it that they got the information to create this map and to insert the Xs and the arrow from the members of the guards that travelled up?
Supt Fitzgerald: I would say that would be correct
Chairman: Was there with it an innuendo or a suggestion that the people who were responsible for this made their way back down into the car park?
Supt Fitzgerald: Absolutely not. There was no...(interjection)
Chairman: What business is the arrow doing there?
Supt Fitzgerald: Well, I don't know, but it was – the whole intention of this was to get help from people and to give people a general idea of the area at the time, and I presented it myself, I presented the programme to the best of – as openly as I could.
Chairman: The point is - who put the arrow there?
Supt Fitzgerald: Well, I didn't put it there, and it wasn't put there for any ... devious reason or anything like that.
Chairman: So even though you were a part of the party that travelled and actually presented the programme as you say...you were not responsible for placing that arrow there? It was somebody else?
Supt Fitzgerald: Correct.
Mr McBrearty Junior: Could you outline all the members that took part in the Crimeline?
Supt Fitzgerald: Well I can't outline all the members.
Mr McBrearty Junior: I can name some of them to you... O'Dowd, Phil Collins, Detective Sergeant Henry, Inspector McGinly, Tin Fowley, that I know of...Any one of them people could have created that map?
Mr McBrearty Junior: The question is any one of those members could have created that map for that Crimeline programme?
Supt Fitzgerald: When you say created the map?
Mr McBrearty Junior: Or had an input into that map?
Supt Fitzgerald: Well I don't know exactly who had the input into that map.
Mr McBrearty Junior: Would you agree with me any of those members could have had... (interjection).
Chairman: All right, Mr McBrearty, it is reasonable to suggest and it is reasonable for me to accept that members who travelled were the members that were helpful in creating this map. Very good, I'm taking that until I hear something to the contrary.
Supt Fitzgerald was also cross-examined in relation to his Crimeline appearance by Mr Brian Murphy, who was representing Garda John O'Dowd.
Mr Murphy: You say you didn't know who put the arrow on the map?
Supt Fitzgerald: Yes ... but somebody would have shown them out to Raphoe from Letterkenny. Somebody would have shown them out because they wouldn't know where Raphoe was…
Mr Murphy: Are you saying you don't know what members of An Garda Síochána were dealing with the RTÉ production team either in Raphoe?
Supt Fitzgerald: I'm sure that I'm probably the person ... that probably wrote to bring this to Crime Line to see if we could get help from people.
Mr Murphy: But for RTÉ to put this diagram on the screen with that arrow, they obviously had to be dealing with particular members of An Garda Síochána to compile that?
Supt Fitzgerald: Oh, I'm sure, yes … But actually I think that arrow is facing – it's not actually facing the way – I think it's facing away from – but it is there ...
Mr Murphy: You were asked was that arrow, did it suggest or was there an innuendo that whoever was responsible for Richard Barron's death made their way from the scene down through the field on to the car park at the disco, and your answer was absolutely not?
Supt Fitzgerald: Yes…
Mr Murphy: The answer was did the arrow suggest the people responsible made their escape down through the fields towards the car park and you said absolutely not.
Supt Fitzgerald: Yes, but the arrow wasn't put there for that purpose…
Mr Murphy: Are you saying that the Crimeline focus wasn't on assault?
Supt Fitzgerald: No, no, I'm not, no.