The Fingerprint affair continued
THERE HAVE BEEN yct further revelations in the fingerprint affair which raises even further doubts about the credibility of several key offiicials in both the Garda and the Department of Justice and, in particular, raises serious questions about the deetermination of the Minister for Justice, Gerry. Collins, to expose the cover-up.
Readers may recall that in the July issue of Magill we reeported very persuasive eviidence to show that Inspector Byrne made a conclusive identification of a mark found on a helmet close to the scene of the assassination of the British ambassador in July 1976. We went on to point out that it would be exxtremely unlikely that the Garda authorities would have understated the nature of that identification (Le. that it is inconceivable that they would have passed on the message that the identificaation was less than conclusive) and that therefore it is very peculiar that there now exists in the Department of Justice a contemporaneous note which states that the original identification was subject to a reservation or qualification, as Gerry Collins maintains.
Since then an independent examination of copies of the charts drawn up by Inspector Byrne of the mark on the hellmet and the fingerprints of Taylor reveals that there is allmost no room for doubt but that Byrne had made a connclusive identification. In addiition it is very difficult to see how a genuine error was made in the case as it is abbsolutely clear from the charts that Taylor did not make the mark on the helmet and thereefore there could not have been an "inconclusive" idenntification.
We have also learnt that the contemporaneous note in the Department of Justice on the original information about the matter very probbably does not indicate that Byrne's identification was innconclusive, though because of a technical complexity in the presentation of fingerprint evidence, it is easily misrepreesented as such.
That complexity relates to the requirement to obtain fresh fingerprints of suspects in every case after they have been arrested in connection with a particular offence. This applies even though in a great number of cases the Gardai already have copies of the suspects fingerprints.
The rationale for this reeq uirement is that otherwise, when fingerprint evidence is given in court, there would be the clear imputation to a judge and jury that the accussed probably had a previous criminal record. This requireement is specifically referred to in the fihgerprint identifiication form which all experts complete when they have made an identification and in no way infers that the identification is in any way open to qualification or reserrvation.
However it appears that the communication from the Gardai to the Department of Justice probably attached the rider to the information on the conclusive identification that "when a fresh set of print becomes available eviidence will be given in court," or words to that effect. It appears that this is the reservvation or qualification that Collins is referring to and in doing so he is misleading the public and Dail on the matter. For he is attempting to sugggest that the information communication to his Departtment indicated that the idenntification was inconclusive, whereas in fact there is mereely a reference to the routine requirement to obtain fresh prints when the accused comes into custody.
Collins has got embroiled in the technicalities of this note in an attempt to exonerrate his predecessor, Patrick Cooney, from suggestions made in Magill last November that he, Cooney, had deliiberately or otherwise misled the Dail on the matter. Collins had the laudable intention of protecting civil servants in his own Department from innvolvement in any imputaations arising from suggestions that Cooney had misled the Dail.
On March 16, 1973 Cooney told the Dail that when the Garda authorities contacted .his Department about the identification in the British ambassador murder case they had "stated that the identifiication was not conclusive and needed to be further checked when better samples or copies of the fingerprints of the perrson concerned would become available. "
We argued then and now that there is considerable eviidence to the effect that this statement was untrue, wheether Cooney knew it to be so or not is a different matter. But now we have further eviidence on the untruthfulness of this statement by Cooney and it comes from no less than the very person who has been attempting to defend him, Gerry Collins.
On the day after he made his supposedly definitive statement in the Dail on the matter, May 23 last, Collins spontaneously offered the Dail a "clarification" of that statement. He agreed he had inferred the previous day that the crucial contemporaneous note related to the original communication from the Gardai on the matter had contained a qualification or reservation "related to the need to get a better set of prints with which to compare the mark that had been found" (more or less what Cooney had said on March 16, 1977). But Collins went on to say that this was not so:
"That (i.e. the information that the qualification related to the need to get a better set of prints) was included as exxplanatory material for the fulller information of the House, but it was inadvertently put in a way that would suggest that the Departmental note that was made at the time inncluded that particular detail. F or the sake of accuracy, and having regard to the confliccting interests involved, I would like to make it clear that is not so and the detail about the better set of prints is based on other material" .
Collins devalues the corrrection he made but it is of cen tral significance in this whole issue. For if the origiinal note referred to the need to get a better set of prints with which to compare the mark that had been found, then either that note was a forgery or Byrne's original identification was inconcluusive and of course we know from other sources that this was not so.
The issue about the need to get a better set of prints arose at a much later date when the Garda authorities were trying to squirm out of the false identification which Byrne had originally made. In other words, it was part of the cover-up, for no "better set of prints" were necessary for several reasons: (a) the ones the Gardai had were perrfect for the purposes req uired and (b) it was asbolutely appparent that Taylor had not made the mark on the helmet, therefore, another set of prints were superfluous.
Therefore Cooney's commment that the identification "needed to be checked when better samples or copies of the fingerprints of the person concerned would become available" was itself part of the cover-up, whether he knew it at the time or not and certainly, as Collins has since admitted, the files in the Department of Justice do not bear out what Cooney said.
We will be continuing with this controversy until the Dail resumes in late October. There is much more to corner.