Fair Cops

  • 24 December 1984
  • test

The inside story of how two Gardai were punished for their honesty, by Gene Kerrigan
1. The Box

Near the end of August 1976 the Special Branch interceppted a parcel posted from the USA and destined forTallaght. The Special Branch routinely inspect postal items, regularly selecting known individuals for postal monitorring, sometimes choosing items at random.

This parcel had been posted in San Francisco on August 19. It was adddressed to Mr Chris McAuley, 81 Homelawn Road, Tallaght, Dublin. It was wrapped in brown paper. Innside there was a cardboard box lined with foam rubber. The box contained three rifle stocks. There were pieces of adhesive tape stuck to each stock and on the tapes the stocks were numbered 5, 7 and 8.

On August 31 a Detective Sergeant Carty from the Special Branch brought the parcel to the Fingerprint Section of the Technical Bureau and gave it to Detective Garda Joseph Harte. Harte examined the parcel and its contents for fingermarks. He treated the brown paper and the cardboard box with a chemical called ninhydrin, used for raising fingermarks on paper substances. He developed several fingerrmarks.

Fingermarks are the impressions of fingertips left on a surface when it has been touched. These are usually fraggmentary - perhaps just the tip or the edge of a single finger, perhaps a bit more. Fingerprints are the impressions of a person's fingers inked onto a paper or card and filed away. The Fingerprint Section of the Garda Technical Bureau has thousands of fingerprints filed, taken from crimiinals and filed after conviction. The job of the section is to match the fragmentary fingermarks found at crime scenes to the fingerprints in their files.

The Fingerprint Section operates in two sub-sections. The Dublin Crime Registry is the sub-section which files the fingerprints and makes compariisons. Its officers are constantly workking to improve the work methods and streamline the filing system in order to reduce the amount of time taken to search through the system to find a match for fingermarks found at crime scenes.

The second sub-section is known as Scenes of Crimes. As the name implies, its officers go to the scenes of crimes and carry out detailed searches for fingermarks.

When Detective Garda Joseph Harte found the fingerrnarks on the parcel wrapping brought to him by the Special Branch he now had the exactting task of seeking to match the marks to fingerprints already in the files. The fingerprints of P&T staff and the Special Branch officers who had handdled the parcel were taken and commpared with the fingermarks left on the wrapping. All but one of the marks were accounted for. This was a mark on the card board box inside the parcel. Now the task was to go through the files and see if anything matched.

The filing system is in categories and areas. For instance, there would be no point wading through the fingerprints of Cork shoplifters in an effort to match the fingermark on the box. There are files on subversives and political activists. These were searched, without success.

September passed. On October 5 the Fingerprint Section received a number of fingerprints from the RUC in Belfast. The two forces regularly cooperate and swop fingerprints. Deetective Garda Harte compared these prints with the mark on the box, which now had the designation 4797/ 76 FI. He concluded that the mark matched the left thumb print of Martin Anthony Taylor, a member of the Provos.

Harte had photographic enlargeements made of Taylor's thumb print and fingermark 4797/76 FI and mounted them side by side. He marked twelve characteristics which coincided. An experienced fingerprint officer could make a satisfactory match on the basis of six matching characterisstics. However, in order to be certain of accuracy and to sustain the reputation of the fingerprint system, fingerprint experts maintain standards of comparison which must be reached before they will give evidence in court. The standard varies - in Britain it is sixteen points of comparison, in Sweeden it is eight. In Ireland the standard is twelve points. This is not a legal necessity or regulation. It is a standard maintained in the interest of justice and of the credibility of the fingerrprint system.

When a competent fingerprint exxpert maintains these standards and identifies a mark as matching a certain print there is no room for error. It is a science, the points of comparison are there or they are not, and after sufficient scrutiny the expert will see the points. Thus, when fingerprint experts go into court and swear that fingermarks found at a crime scene match the fingerprints of the accused the officers are unshakably certain of their facts and the court accepts the evidence without doubt.

To ensure that standards are mainntained it is routine for officers in the Fingerprint Section to check each other's work. When an officer makes an identification the prints are passed to another. Detective Garda Harte passed fingermark 4797/76 FI and the thumbprint of Martin Taylor to Detecctive Sergeant John Garavin for checkking. Garavin confirmed Harte's iden tiification. Garavin, with an identified left thum bmark, couldn't resist checkking it against an unidentified left thumbmark which had been giving the Fingerprint Section late nights since the previous July. That left thumbmark was connected with the killings of the British Ambassador, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, and diplomat Judith Cooke. Garavin told Harte he couldn't have the enlargements back just yet, there was something to check. He got out the Ewart-Biggs file. Bingo.

2. The Department of Fingers Crossed

Christopher Ewart-Biggs, the new British Ambassador, was not very impressed by the Irish police. Three days after he presented his credenntials to President 0 Dalaigh he met with senior gardai to discuss his perrsonal security. When he suggested that the Provos might try to kidnap or kill him while he was travelling from his residence to the embassy the gardai said it was unlikely. "It hasn't happened yet," one said. That night, July 12, he wrote in his diary, "It seems to be the department of fingers crossed". Nine days later, as he left his residence at Sandyford to travel to the embassy, the Provos exploded a bomb under his car, killing Ewart-Biggs and Judith Cooke.

The Cosgrave government, which had made a major assault on civil liberties that was supposedly designed to enhance security, was severely embarrassed. Liam Cosgrave subseequently announced a state of emerrgency and there was much running to and fro on the security front. The garda force was embarrassed, the pressure was on to get results.

Soon after the explosion that July morning the gardai were arriving to begin their investigation. The top brass were there. Edmund Garvey, then Commissioner, Patrick McLaughlin, then Deputy Commissioner (he would later succeed Garvey as Commissioner), and Laurence Wren, then Assistant Commissioner (now Commissioner). Chief Superintendent John Joy of the Central Detective Unit was supervising.

The first job was to search the area and collect any evidence. Anything which might possibly be a lead would be collected. The Technical Bureau officers arrived. The Technical Bureau was set up in 1934. It comprises a num ber of specialist sections - fingerrprints, ballistics, photographic, mappping, investigation. It was around lOam when Detective Inspector William Byrne, head of the Fingerprint Section, directed two of his officers, Detective Sergeant Michael Diggin and Detective Garda John Grant, to go to the scene. Grant drove, as he knew the area, and Inspector Byrne followed in another car.

The detectives searching the scene had already found a green plastic hellmet, a safety helmet of the type worn on building sites. It was found in a field about 150 yards from the spot where it was believed the killers lay as they set off the explosion. It was believed that the killers had crossed that field to a car waiting on the main road. Inspector Byrne told Sergeant Diggin to take possession of the hellmet once the technical work of photoographing it and measuring its position in the field had been done. Diggin was wearing surgical gloves. He put the helmet in a plastic bag.

The search for clues went on late into the evening. Inspector Byrne arrived back at the Fingerprint Section offices at about 9.30pm. Sergeant Diggin was already there, examining some of the bits and pieces recovered from the field. Inspector Byrne went to work on a torch and some pieces of adhesive tape which had been reecovered. Both Byrne and Diggin were wearing surgical gloves. The helmet was on Diggin's desk. For some reason Inspector Byrne believed the helmet to be "the single most imporrtant clue". He asked Diggin if it had any marks. Diggin said no. Byrne was disappointed and asked for a look at the helmet. Diggin picked it up, holding it by the inside, still wearing his gloves, and brought it to Byrne's desk.

At some time previous to this Michael Diggin had made a mistake. He had touched the helmet, perhaps pushing it aside after examining it, ar some time when he wasn't wearing his gloves. As luck would have it he touched it with his left thumb.

Inspector Byrne examined the helmet. It had been treated with fine grey fingerprint powder. He saw the mark left by Diggin's thumb. He believed he had found a clue to the identity of the killers.

3. The Fingerprint Section

Although all sides would later claim that there was no friction in the Fingerrprint Section prior to this, the enmity which would later emerge would suggest that extremes of dislike had been smouldering for some time. The opposing factions would devolve around Detective Inspector Byrne and Detective Sergeant Patrick Corliss.

Byrne was a get up and go copper, much admired by his peers. He had begun his career in fingerprints back in the 195 Os. He was regarded by his superiors as a detective not so much careful as adventurous. Where others might decide that there was no useable fingermark to be lifted from a scene Byrne would roll up his sleeves and set to work, often for days on end. He powdered, sprayed, used powerful lights, all but kicked the thing until he failed or an identifiable print emerged. This made him the kind of detective which investigators liked to have working on a case with them. If there was anything to be lifted from a surface, no matter how unlikely it seemed, Billy Byrne was the man who would get a print for you.

Byrne's zeal got him a high reputaation among his superiors and he was rapidly promoted, without the bother of formal exams. He was regarded as a good field man who got results and that was what counted. He also ~ and this is no small point in a moneyyconscious police force -- clocked up a lot of overtime because of his persistent methods.

Detective Sergeant Patrick Corliss was chalk to Billy Byrne's cheese. He too began his fingerprint career in the 1950s. He was Byrne's equal in everything but rank. He was methoodical, systematic, worked by the book. He examined suspect objects and if there was a print he lifted it, if there wasn't anything which he considered useable he discarded it. This was not laziness in comparison with Byrne. Both detectives had their ways of working. Byrne pulled out all the stops to get a mark which he could lift and which would be useful to the investiigators. Corliss clung to "a standard of fingermark which he considered necesssary before it could be used. Corliss was also held in high regard by his superiors. In 1966, the year Byrne was made a Detective Inspector, Corliss passed the exam for Inspector and was now eligible for promotion. In the period 1966-75 he applied for promotion eleven times, each time failing. Promotion was the gift of superiors outside the Technical Bureau and gardai like Byrne more readily caught the eye of the top brass. Corliss's superiors in the Bureau were disappointed at his failure to gain promotion.

There was tension in the Fingerrprint Section, awaiting an issue to trip it. There would later be allegations of jealousy and personality differennces but more important that those were the sharp differences of approach to fingerprint work within the section.

All of this was not happening in a vacuum. That year, 1976, can in retroospect be seen as the climax of the Cossgrave Coalition's obsession with secuurity. After the failure of the Sunninggdale formula in 1974 the Southern government had abandoned any poliitical strategy towards the Northern conflict. The aim now was to push the problem back across the border, clamp down on dissent in the South, in the process carving away civil liberties and allowing police proceedures to deteriorate in the rush for results. The Technical Bureau was central to the deterioration of stanndards. The Investigation Section, unlike the other sections in the Bureau, was made up of detectives with no scienntific expertise. They specialised in canvassing witnesses and taking stateements. They also interrogated suspects. They had expertise in obtaining the kind of statements which 0 bserved the legal niceties and which would stand up in court - whereas less experienced detectives might make technical errors which would lead to statements being declared inadmissible.

The Cosgrave Coalition's desire for results led to the round up of increasing num bers of suspects, picked up on suspicion or on spec. Allegations began to emerge of beatings being delivered to suspects by members of the Invesstigation Section and by other detecctives who joined the IS members in their lengthy interrogation sessions. It became known among gardai that there was a "Heavy Gang" operating which moved from one investigation to another taking shortcuts to get results. While there was no official sanction of this, a deaf ear was turned to the substantive allegations. They were put down to the work of subbversives.

It was in this atmosphere that the hunt for the killers of the British Am bassador was conducted. In an inquiry into a report on events in the Fingerprint Section the Deputy Commmissioner, Patrick McLaughlin, would later say that the Ewart-Biggs case "was badly handled from the ou tset." In an extraordinary comment on the state of the garda force at that time McLaughlin said, "One of the main weaknesses of the force today is an over anxiety to impress; to be first in with the news, good or bad, resulting in a jumping to conclusions and then trying to find facts to support them." This report was written, for Corr .. misssioner Edmund Garvey, in early 1977, a time when the authorities, from the Minister for Justice downwards, were issuing trenchant denials that there was anything at all wrong within the gardai.

McLaughlin was writing of "the Force", the gardai as a whole, and his summing up of the central weakness within the gardai ties in all too well with the image of a force being pushed for results and taking shortcuts to get them.

What was about to happen in the Fingerprint Section would show just how far standards had declined under political pressure for results.

4. Confrontation

When Detective Sergeant John Garavin checked the fingermark left on the green safety helmet against the RUC's copy of Martin Taylor's fingerprints he concluded that Taylor had left the mark on the helmet. He rang Detective Inspector William Byrne at home and told him of his find and asked him to make comparisons himself. Byrne went into the office at IO.30pm that evening and did. He agreed with Garaavin, the left thumbmark had been made by Martin Taylor.  

Michael Diggin, the detective who had inadvertently left the thum bmark on the helmet, also received a call that night from Garavin, telling him that Garavin had at last found a match for the mark. A few days later Diggin asked Inspector Byrne if he could have a look at the identified print. After a short time Diggin came to the concluusion that Garavin and Byrne were wrong. There were discrepancies in the identification which Diggin could not explain.

There is a conflict of evidence over much of what happened next. Diggin eventually went to Sergeant Corliss and told him of his worries. Corliss examined the mark and Taylor's print and agreed with Diggin, they were not the same. Diggin and Corliss talked to Garavin and Byrne several times xthere is a dispute about what exactly was said. Diggin and Corliss maintain that Garavin and Byrne were adamant that the thumbmark was Taylor's and would not pay any heed to objections. Corliss claimed that Byrne said at one point, "If this is wrong then the Dillon and Driscoll cases might be wrong also," referring to previous cases on which Byrne had worked. Byrne denies saying that. He and Garavin claimed that they had merely made a tentative identification of the print, that the RUC copy of Taylor's prints were not very good and they were awaiting a fresh set of Taylor's prints before making a conclusive identifiication.

Since there were no witnesses to these conversations the judgement of who was telling the truth must be based on other events, to which there were witnesses.

Immediately on confirming Garaavin's identification of the thumbmark as Taylor's, Inspector Byrne rang Detective Superintendent Dan Murphy with the news. The next day word spread throughout the top brass that Billy Byrne had done it again, they had a make on one of the killers of the British Ambassador. Word went to the politicians and was also leaked to the media. Stories began appearing that told of how the gardai knew the idenntity of one of the killers. It to some extent relieved the embarrassment caused by the security failures which allowed the Provos to kill EwarttBiggs.

In the meantime, the row within the Fingerprint Section continued. Byrne saw Corliss's complaints as stemming from envy and frustration at lack of promotion. Corliss, he believed, had base motives for his attacks. Corliss believed that Byrne's identification of the thumbmark was not only wrong but was an example of the lack of care which he believed Byrne's methods showed.

The row continued for a month and nothing was done to sort it out. It cannot be emphasised enough that such a dispute between fingerprint experts is extraordinary. The marks were there or they were not. They were sufficient for an identification or they were not. It was not comparrable to two expert meteorologists arguing about whether it will rain tomorrow - it is more like them arguing on whether it rained yesterday. Meanwhile, the hunt was on for Martin Taylor.

5. The Meeting

On N ovem ber 8 1976, just over a month after Garavin and Byrne made the identification, the garda authoriities attempted to resolve the issue at a meeting called by the head of the Technical Bureau, Chief Superintenndent Anthony McMahon, in his office. Detective Superintendent Dan Murphy also attended, along with Byrne, Garavin , Diggin and Corliss. Two other detective sergeants, Martin Hogan and Gerard McDonagh, who had examined the controversial thumbbmark and print, also attended.

Garavin and Byrne had marked twelve characteristics on the copy of the thumbmark and twelve on the print of Martin Taylor's thumb. It was Diggins case that eight of the twelve characteristics marked on the thumbmark were not characteristics at all and that three of the characteristics marked on the print were not characcteristics. Diggin also believed that there were characteristics which did appear in the print supplied by the RUC but which did not appear in the thumbmark. The rule in fingerprints is that, no matter how many characcteristics match, if there is a single unexplained dissimilarity then the mark and the print don't match. On the face of it Diggin's case was inconntrovertible. The thumbmark on the helmet had not been made by Martin Taylor and the evidence of that was plain.

The meeting began with McMahon inviting Corliss to state his complaint. Corliss said that the identification made by Garavin and Byrne was wrong. Garavin and Byrne then both said that the identification was right. The two neutral fingerprint sergeants, Hogan and McDonagh were asked for their opinions. Both said that the mark was not made by Martin Taylor. Garavin and Byrne stuck to their position.

This is the crucial bit.

Sergean t Corliss asked Inspector Byrne if he would be willing to go to court and swear that the thumbmark had been made by Martin Taylor. The killing of an Ambassador is a capital offence and can result in hanging. Corliss, Diggin, McMahon, Murphy, Hogan and McDonagh all subsequently claimed that Detective Inspector Byrne replied that he would go to court and give such evidence. Some claimed Garavin said he too would give such evidence.

Byrne and Garavin later denied that they said this.

The meeting began at 4pm and lasted about three hours. It ended without any resolution of the conflict. This in itself is astounding - two senior officers saw six of their leading fingerprint experts arguing over someething which is not a subject for arguument, the identification of a fingerrmark, yet things were let lie.

The decision of the meeting, such as it was, was to await clearer copies of Martin Taylor's fingerprints. Howwever, no date was set for a further meeting. There were no proposals to resolve the issue. Martin Taylor was still officially identified as a killer of the British Am bassador.

6 . Backtracking

The rest of November passed and nothing was done. The involvement of Sergeants Hogan and McDonagh in determining that the thumbmark was not Martin Taylor's had by now overridden any personal content that there mayor may not have been in the row between Corliss and Byrne. The significance of the problem cannot be overstated. Apart from the potential miscarriage of justice in the ascribing of the thumbmark to Martin Taylor, the credibility of the whole fingerrprint system was at stake. If the Inspector in charge of the Fingerprint Section was giving an opinion which was the reverse of the opinion of four of his leading fingerprint experts pon a mark and a print which suppoosedly shared twelve characteristics then no case which depended on fingerprint evidence could be won. And doubt was cast on every other case tried which had depended on fingerprint evidence. The implications were international. If the system proved unreliable in Ireland it was unnreliable everywhere. It was of the uttmost importance that every measure be taken to resolve the dispute immeediately.

Nothing was done.

On December 2 Sergeant Michael Diggin was testing some new fingerrprint equipment which had been issued to the section. He used his own fingerprints to test it. On a hunch he then compared his own left thumbbprint with the controversial thum bbprint from the helmet and discovered his original error. He went to Sergeant Corliss immediately. Corliss told him to prepare photographic enlargements.

Diggin did so and marked up fourteen matching characteristics. Corliss exaamined it on December 6. Two days later he went to Chief Superintendent McMahon, who called Inspector Byrne to his office. Byrne was told what had happened, checked the prints himself and conceded that Corliss was right. McMahon and Byrne then went to see Assistant Commissioner Laurence Wren and told him what had happened. According to a statement made by Chief Superintendent McMahon on January 28 1978 the trio then "disscussed at length the various developpments in the investigation of murders and the serious setback to the prospect of detection resulting from the misstaken identification of the fingerrnark on the helmet."

This discussion hardly seems to the point. It had now been established that the Inspector in charge of the Fingerprint Section had been wrong in a row which had put at risk the credibility of the main forensic tool in law enforcement. The row was clearly not one based on personalities - although Inspector Byrne had legiitimately suggested that there might be a personal element in the conflict between himself and Corliss - as there had been a straightforward clash of professional opinion once Hogan and McDonagh became involved and sided with Corliss and Diggin.

Yet nothing was done. A mistake had been caught, was the official line, no harm done.

Corliss soldiered on. He began backk__ eking through cases in which Byrne aad been involved. He obtained from the files photographic enlargements of rae fingerprint charts used in the prosecution of Joseph Dillon for the murder of Garda Richard Fallon in 1970, and the charts used in the prosecution of James O'Driscoll for the murder of Nora Colohan in 1973. (Both these persons were acquitted.) Corliss concluded that in both cases the identifications made by Inspector Byrne had been wrong. Byrne refused to discuss the matter with him.

By now Chief Superintendent McMahon had told the Assistant Commmissioner, Laurence Wren, about the Martin Taylor case and the subsequent controversy. Now Corliss submitted reports on the Dillon and O'Driscoll cases to McMahon and to Assistant Commissioner McLaughlin. It was now late January 1977. Still nothing was being done.

In February the Irish Times pubblished a series of articles on the Heavy Gang, written by Joe Joyce, Don Buckley and Renagh Holohan. There was embarrassment in garda circles and they denied the allegations, as did Minister for Justice Paddy Cooney.

The conflict between Corliss and Byrne grew more bitter. Byrne still claimed that Corliss was envious and frustrated because of lack of promootion. Corliss believed that the standards within the Fingerprint Section had been damaged by Byrne's methods and that the failure of the garda authoorities to take action amounted to' a cover-up.

Byrne alleged that at a wedding party, when another member of the section was being married, Sergeant Corliss's wife had shouted across the room to him, "Billy Byrne, you may not do anyone any harm but you won't do them any fucking good." He alleged that on February 9 1977, at about noon, Sergeant Corliss took the Garda Guide from his locker and

consulted it, then made notes on his blotter, knowing that other members in the room, including Byrne, would look at the notes later. When Corliss left Byrne looked at the notes. They read,

Perjury 420 Conspiracy page 76
(l) Pervert course of Justice
(2) Wrongfully to injure & prejudice 3rd person

Inspector Byrne would insist that the whole affair stemmed from perrsonal enmity. Yet, there had been none prior to the conflict over the Martin Taylor identification.

While Inspector Byrne claimed that Corliss was "out for a kill" for personal reasons, there is evidence in Byrne's own statements that the matter revolved around professional standards. Byrne, in an attack on Corliss and Diggin, wrote, "Only last week Detective Sergeant Corliss and Detective Sergeant Diggin openly condemned members of the so-called 'Heavy Gang' and stated that they should be charged and got rid of out of the Bureau and make it safe for decent men. This view was not acceppted by some other members who were dining at the same time in the mess-hall and censored (sic) Detective Sergeants Corliss and Diggin."

Corliss and Diggin steamed on.

Corliss wanted to check other cases which Byrne had been involved in. The garda authorities wanted to let the thing lie. Had things gone on as they did it is possible that the whole affair would have been buried.

7. The Press

At the end of February a letter arrived at the Irish Times addressed to Renagh Holohan. It told the story of what was happening within the Fingerprint Secction. It was shown to the editor, Fergus Pyle. There were doubts about its authenticity. Pyle showed it to Conor Brady, who for two years had been editor of the Garda Review and who had written a book on the gardai. Brady concluded from the type of stationery used and the postal registry that the letter had originated from within the Technical Bureau.
Renagh Holohan was going on holidays and the story was passed to Joe Joyce and Don Buckley to check out. The two substantiated the story from their own sources. It was then decided that Corliss and Diggin should be warned that the story was about to break on top of them - and that telling them that the paper had the story might provoke one or the other into talking. Conor Brady went to see Diggin at his home off the Navan Road on the evening of February 28. When Brady identified himself Diggin 's face dropped. He said, "Oh Jesus, I know what you're here about."

He brought Brady inside and broke out the whiskey. He said he had noothing to say about the case. Brady soon left and motored to Corliss's home near Lucan. By then Diggin had alerted Corliss and Corliss told Brady he would have to notify his superiors of the visit. When Brady left, Corliss phoned a senior officer (as Diggin had done) and told him of Brady's visit.

Later that night the Irish Times sought comment from the Garda Press fice with the usual lack of response d next morning the story appeared. On the day the story appeared, March 1 1977, the garda authorities finally moved.Commissioner Edmund Garvey ordered Assistant Comissioner Patrick McLaughlin to carry out "a thorough and full investigation" into the complaints from Corliss and Diggin and the story in the Irish Times.

8. Inquiry

Deputy Commissioner McLaughlin's report on his inquiry into the case was finished on May 12. The report ran to about 250 typewritten pages.

In the course of his inquiries MeeLaughlin sought the help of several fingerprint experts in assessing the dispu ted fingerprint identifications. All concurred with Corliss and Diggin that the identifications were either wrong or could not be properly made. Most of the assessments were made by experts from the Fingerprint Secction. McLaughlin also contacted "the highest recognised authority I could find", Commander G.T.C. Lambourne, head of the fingerprint section at Scotland Yard. Lambourne initially hesitated, then agreed to examine the cases.

Commander Lam bourne examined six exhibits. It should be noted that each exhibit consisted of a chart, on one side of which was a photograph of a finger or palm mark lifted from the scene of a crime, the other of which being a photograph of a print which allegedly matched the mark. In one the fingermark had deteriorated from natural causes and need not conncern us.

He concluded that the thumbmark on the helmet had been made by Sergeant Diggin.

Of a case in which Sergeant Garavin had identified a palm print as being that of an Elizabeth Plunkett he commented, "The best that can be said of this chart is that it has been ingeniously marked up. Advantage has been taken of marking clear data on one print with obscure data on the other and vice versa ... it is my opinion that they are not identical."

In a case in which Inspector Byrne had identified a fingermark as being that of a James O'Driscoll he cornmennTed, "Similarly to the previous exhibit obscure areas on the scene of crime mark have been marked to indicate matching characteristics." He concluded that the chart did not reveal sufficient clearly defined characteristics on which to make a satisfactory comparison.

When Inspector Byrne had identified a palm mark as being that of Joseph Dillon the Commander again noted obscure areas being used to indicate matching characteristics and again concluded that the mark was not sufficiently clear to make an identification.

On the identification of the thumbbmark on the helmet as being that of Martin Taylor the Commander did not mince words. "One of the basic prinnciples of fingerprint identification is that if one unexplained ridge characcteristic was found in one print under comparison and not the other (prooviding both areas were clear and disstinct) then identity cannot be estabblished. This principle has been totally ignored on anum ber of occasions during the preparation of this exhibit. The marks are not identical. "

In an overall comment on the exhiibits, Commander Lambourne wrote, "The fingerprint identification system has over the past 75 years built a world wide reputation for being the finest method of individual identificaation yet devised by man, a method which should be protected by all fingerprint experts.

"It would appear from most of the exhibits I have examined that the sysstem has been put in jeopardy." He did not think that the fault lay in malice but in "misguided enthusiasm". If it was allowed continue unchecked it "can only lead to the identification system being brought into disrepute which, because of its sensitive nature, would !}ave world wide repercussions. "

9. Action

Inspector Byrne and Sergeant Garavin's defence was that they had worked from original fingermarks on the Plunkett, Dillon and 0 'Driscoll cases, something which Lam bourne was unable to do, and that the photoographic exhibits did not reveal the characteristics which they had seen. On the Martin Taylor case, where this explanation could not be given, they said that the copy of the fingerprints

received from the RUC were not of good quality and that they had never made a conclusive identification, that they were a waiting a better copy.

Yet, Diggin, Corliss, McMahon, Murphy, Hogan and McDonagh all said that they heard Byrne say at the November 8 meeting that he would go into court and swear that Martin Taylor had made the thumbmark on the helmet.

All the inquiring had been done, everyone had had a say, the garda authorities had all the evidence. It , was time for action.

McLaughlin, in his report, recommmended that Sergeant Garavin be removed from the Fingerprint Secction as "doubts must arise about his professional competence."

McLaughlin made no such commment about Inspector Byrne, who had made precisely the same identification as had Sergeant Garavin. McLaughlin recommended he be removed from the Fingerprint Section "in his own interests and in the interests of the Fingerprint Section" because the pubblicity which had been generated might result in "embarrassing crosstion". McLaughlin made the recommmendation "reluctantly".

Diggin was moved out. His acciidental touching of the helmet was equated with the behaviour of Garavin and Byrne. He was moved out "in the interests of harmony in the secction".

Detective Sergeant Corliss, who had not made any mistakes, without whom Diggin would have been alone in prootecting the credibility of the fingerrprint system, was also removed from the Fingerprint Section. McLaughlin's explanation of this extraordinary action was that Corliss tended towards "conservatism and safety" as opposed to Inspector Byrne's "more risky and and adventurous approach", and while this was appreciated, "If all the members of the section are going to sit back and wait f'o- absolutely clear cut and obbvious cases then the section might as well shut down." Corliss too would be moved "in the interests of harrmony".

The four - Byrne, Garavin, Diggin and Corliss - suffered the same fate. Byrne and Garavin, according to Commmander Larnbourne, had made deciisions which meant that "the system has been put in jeopardy". Both had doggedly denied making any mistake until presented with incontrovertible evidence. Diggin had accidentally touched an exhibit, certainly a mistake but hardly an irreversible one. It was he who established that he had made the mistake and he immediately reporrted it. Corliss did nothing but his duty.

10. Aftermath

The complaints of Corliss and Diggin went to the Director of Public Proseecutions in February 1978, along with McLaughlin's evidence from the innquiry, to ascertain if there were grounds for a criminal prosecution. On the evidence presented to him the DPP decided there should be no prosecution.

Later that year, Edmund Garvey having been removed by the new Fianna Fail government, Patrick MeeLaughlin became Commissioner of the Gardai and implemented the recommmendations in the report which he had written. Corliss was moved to clerical duties in Pearse Street garda station, Diggin was moved to Store Street. Sergeant Garavin was moved to the Special Branch. Detective Inspector Byrne's career blossomed. In 1981, in the short period between Charles Haughey losing the election and leaving office, Byrne was promoted to Superintendent. He subsequently came back into the limelight during the Malcolm Macarthur/Paddy Connolly fiasco, when he distributed a Haughey press release at the gates of Kinsealy,

Last month saw the climax of the affair when the High Court heard a case for damages brought against the garda authorities and the Attorney General by Diggin and Corliss. The judge, Liam Hamilton, said that Diggin and Corliss were vindicated by the prooceedings, but he withdrew the case from the jury on a technicality - the Commissioner, he said, had not acted with malice towards Corliss and Diggin and had a right to move staff around as he saw fit.

"Everyone here would concede that they have won their case," said Justice

Liam Hamilton as he withdrew the Corliss and Diggin case from the jury. By that time the jury had in fact come down on the side of the two detectives. Talking amongst themselves, the jurors noted the fidgetting of one senior garda as he gave evidence and how another senior garda stared deadpan at a wall through the proceedings. In discussing the case they had, before it was withdrawn from them, decided that Diggin and Corliss had been illltreated by the authorities. One juror brought in a book which contained details of garda salaries and overtime. Working from this they calculated that the effective demotion of the two detectives had cost them dearly. They reckoned that Diggin had lost out more and the figures for compensaation which were being discussed were £80,000 for Diggin and £60,000 for Corliss. Justice Hamilton's decision put an end to that.

The vindication of Corliss and Diggin leaves a mixed result. The rise in Superintendent Byrne's fortunes, as compared to theirs, is - while startling enough - not the main point. The senior gardai who sat on this extraaordinary affair, until the efforts of two garda sergeants and the press forced some form of accountability, are now even more senior. One of them, Laurence Wren, is now Commissioner.