Fingerprint Scandal: New Developements

THE COVER UP of the fingerprint scandal goes on relentlessly.

The two officers directly implicated continue to sit at their desks in the fingerprint department, there are indicaations that the higher Garda authorities have given them assurances that they will be restored to their former posiitions once press interest in the affair subsides and the initial Garda cover up version of the affair (that it was all just an unfortunate mistake) is still being peddled to reeporters

A brief resume of the afffair is necessary here.

When the British ambasssador was assassinated on July 21st of last year, a workkman's helmet was found at the scene of the detonation of the bomb. The helmet was examined by Dt. Sgt. Michael Diggin of the fingerprint secction and he found no discernnable marks on it.

It was highly unlikely for a re-check to be done in such circumstances but a day or two later, the head of the section, Inspector William Byrne, announced that he had discovered a fingerprint on the helmet. A search of the files was conducted.

Meanwhile, the two fingerrprint experts who exposed the case continue to be vicctimised in petty, vindictive ways and they remain reemoved from their former positions in the fingerprint section. However, they are continuing to assist the DPP in his investigations and they have recently replied in deetail to a series of questions he put to them in writing.

Evidence has also emerged that lends an even greater seriousness to the case and, if substantiated, would impliicate many more senior Garda officers than previously susspected.

Although six experts were engaged in the search for nearly a month, no identification was made. However, subsequent to that, Inspector Byrne's closest colleague in the section, Dt. Sgt. John Garavin, indentified the mark as that of a known IRA man and news of the identification was passed to the Garda authorities and then on to the Department of Justice, the Cabinet and the British authoorities. The U.S. authorities may also have been informed at this stage, for it was beelieved that the suspect had flown to the United States.

This disagreement among experts was highly significant, because the science of fingerrprints is so precise that there is no room for valid disagreeement. One of the world's fingerprint authorities has written: 'when a competent technician uses the required margin of safety in establishhing identity (presence of suffficient number of identical characteristics in both prints), it is virtually impossible for another equally competent technician to disagree'. Corrliss brought the irregularities in the 'identification' to the attention of Byrne, who reefused to discuss the techniical issues involved or to have the matter referred to another fingerprint expert. Corliss then contacted the head of the Technical Burreau, Chief Superintendent Tony MacMahon, but he refused to get involved in the matter. Later, .at Corliss's insistence, a meeting was held in MacMahon's office of all the fingerprint experts in the Department of sergeant rank and all bu t Byrne and Garavin agreed that the 'identificaation' was mistaken.

In spite of this, MacMahon sided with Byrne and Garavin and Byrne repeated an earlier assertion that he was preepared to go into court to testify that the identification was correct. When it was pointed out to him that this could mean that someone might be executed, he still insisted that he was prepared to testify.

Commissioner Garvey: did he know On a hunch, Diggin later examined the mark found on the helmet and discovered that it was his own. He had carelessly handled the helmet after he had checked for a mark, quite a usual procedure when no mark has been found. Diggin passed his disscovery on to Corliss, MaccMahon was informed and then Byrne, who at last reelented.

Last March, The Irish Times published a report on the affair which led to the then Minister for Justice, Patrick Cooney, to make a grossly misleading statement on the case to the Dail. An investigation was conducted.

At this stage two attempts were made to inform Commmissioner Edmund Garvey of the matter, one through a priest and the other through a Garda officer associated with the Garda club who had close ties with Garvey. It is virrtually certain that Garvey was informed by at least one of these sources of what was happening, and of course, it is highly probable that Chief Superintendent MacMahon had kept him informed.

No action was taken on the matter, however, until the change of Government and then the Garda authorities 'reallocated' not alone Byrne, and Garavin, but also Diggin and Corliss who had caused considerable irritation among the Garda au thorities by their relentless pursuit of the case. The changes seemed to have been promoted by a desire to preeempt the new Minister for Justice from making sweeping changes within the section and possibly among the higher echelons of the Gardai.

In the last two months however, Byrne and Garavin have resumed their places in the fingerprint section, though they are doing no forrmal work there. In addition, it is becoming evident that allthough Chief Superintendent MacMahon is perturbed by their presence, at least Byrne has been informed by 'higher authorities' (almost certainly Garvey), that he has been given permission to resume his place and that his removal as head of the fingerprint section is only temporary.

Byrne was originally moved to CID courses, allthough for months no courses were taking place. Recently however, a course has commmenced on criminal investiigation and ironically Inspecctor Byrne is lecturing on finngerprints.

Diggin and Garavin had been moved out of the fingerrprint section into the photoographic section, which is also in the Technical. Bureau unnder MacMahon. The other officers in the Photographic section objected to their apppointment, as they would be blocking promotional opporrtunities. A delegation from the Garda Representative Body went to see Garvey about the matter and he innformed them that Garavin and Diggin were not in Photoographic, they were still atttached to fingerprints but not allowed to work there.

Corliss and Diggin have been victimised for their exposure of the scandal first by being moved from their forrmer positions and since then by petty vindictiveness. For instance, they were both reefused the usual overtime payment for time spent talkking with the Representative Body about their case.

But the most disquieting piece of evidence to emerge about the matter recently, concerns the precise cirrcumstances in which Inspecctor Byrne and Dt. Sgt. Garavin 'identified' the mark on the helmet as being that of the IRA suspect.

As the officiai search party had unsuccessfully concluded their search, the investigation unit of the Technical Bureau came up with the name of an IRA member as being a susspect in the British ambassaador's murder. A few days after this person's name surrfaced as being a suspect, Byrne and Garavin 'identiified' him from the mark on the helmet. The suspect's fingerprints had come into the fingerprint unit just a short time previously from the RUC, in connection with the postage of . arms frorri America. The co-incidence is absolutely remarkable and the chances of it occurring must be millions to one against, especially when one takes into account the alinost impossible 'mistaken' identiification of the suspect.

If the implications obvious from this chronology of events is valid, then some members of the investigation unit must also be implicated in the fingerprint scandal. Members of this unit are allready under fire, for at least four of - them are officers about whom complaints have been made to Amnesty Interrnational concerning Garda brutality.

The disposition of the new Minister for Justice, Gerry Collins, seems very clearly to hush things up, so as not to disturb the morale of the Gardai as a whole, and it therefore remains tip to the DPP to investigate the matter on his own now and to take whatever criminal prosecuutions appear appropriate.

The fingerprint affair is the single most important innternal issue ever to arise within the Gardai. It impliicates several senior Garda officers, possibly including the Commissioner, Edmund Garvey. The credibility of the force is dependent on a full  investigation of the case.