The gardaí, the addict and the 'confession'

The Dean Lyons report shows that the homeless drug addict did not commit the Grangegorman murders and that he fabricated his confession, based on details he learned from gardaí during his interrogation. Frank Connolly reports

The report into the circumstances by which an innocent man admitted to one of the most gruesome murders in the history of the state has failed to explain how the alleged suspect, Dean Lyons, learned of vital and specific details in the case before his confession of guilt.

Dean Lyons, a heroin addict bordering on mentally unstability, admitted to the murders of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Sheils, whose bodies were discovered in Eastern Health Board accommodation at Grangegorman in Dublin on 7 March 1997.

Lyons was arrested in July 1997 by investigating gardaí after they learned, through informants among the heroin-using community, that he had spoken of his involvement in the Grangegorman murders.

Four hours into his first interview by gardaí on 26 July, Dean Lyons became distressed, broke down and admitted to the two killings. Lyons had taken his last hit of heroin on the previous night and subsequently claimed that he was in the "horrors" and suffering from withdrawal symtoms when he first "confessed".

He repeated his "confession" to his parents later that day, although his father John, his mother Sheila and his brother, also John, all warned the gardaí that he had a habit of making up stories and admitting to things he never did.

His brother warned gardaí they would have "egg on [their] face over this".

The significance of these warnings should have been apparent after the first interviews with the suspect, some of which were video-taped. Lyons made a number of assertions which were false and which should have indicated that he could not have been involved in the murders.

Crucially, he claimed to have attacked the women in different parts of the house to where their bodies were found. He claimed to have used a steak knife when, in fact, there were five weapons, including a carving fork, used.

He claimed to have killed Mary Callinan first, even though the forensic evidence specifically showed that Sylvia Sheils was killed first. This was proven when the carving fork used to stab both victims was found lodged in the body of Mary Callinan and could only be removed in post mortem.

Lyons claimed he had deposited a pair of gloves he used in a derelict house which he identified but they were never found. Crucially, he also claimed he had a girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. When the girl was eventually tracked down she was not pregnant and had never been in a relationship with him. Another woman he claimed to have met after the murder, whom he said was a prostitute in nearby Benburb Street, turned out to be an old school friend and neighbour from Tallaght whom he had not met on the occasion he claimed and who was never a prostitute.

He claimed there were no lights on in the house when he broke in – the surviving resident, Ann Mernagh, who was not assaulted, insisted the women always kept the hall light on during the night.

Lyons claimed he found money sticking out from under a carpet – there was no evidence of any such find or that either of the women kept their money under the carpet. He said there were statues in the window – this was provably not the case – and that one of the victims had a religious medal even though her sister swore she wore no such adornments due to an allergy to metal.

A former Dominican brother whom Dean Lyons knew well in Tallaght, where his family lived, told gardaí the 23-year-old drug addict, who had a previous conviction for theft, was not a violent man and would be incapable of such a ferocious and gruesome attack in which the genitals and other body parts of the women were mutilated after they were hacked to death.

His father told gardaí that if his son had been involved there must have been an accomplice as he would not have been capable of such an assault. Lyons then named an accomplice who was not involved in the crime.

In later interviews, Lyons was able to provide specific details, which contradicted his earlier assertions, of the crime scene that could only have come from someone present on the night in question or from members of the Garda investigation team.

Significantly, during these later interviews, he recalled the five weapons used and the important detail that two of them were electric carving knives with white tips. He also remembered that he had touched a light switch with his bloodied hand. These two details were vital in convincing the senior investigating officers, including Detective Chief Superintendent Cormac Gordon and Chief Superintendent Sean Camon, that he should be charged with murder.

Despite the uncertainties of junior gardaí – and in particular Detective Garda Dominic Cox who interviewed Lyons at length and who described him as a "Walter Mitty" type – the senior officers believed there was sufficient evidence to justify a murder charge. Cox also warned that Lyons was "learning as much from us as we are from him".

When their concerns were raised, junior officers were told by Chief Superintendent Cormac Gordon that their differences were "undermining the investigation", while Chief Superintendent Sean Camon reminded them that Lyons had confessed on video, in writing and to his mother that he had committed the heinous crime. "What more to you want?" asked Camon, according to the recently published report into the Dean Lyons case compiled by George Bermingham SC.

When Assistant Commissioner James McHugh reviewed the case, he asked the senior officers whether they recalled the reservations expressed by Detective Garda Dominic Cox and others about the credibility of Lyons.

Camon, Gordon and Chief Superintendent John Gallagher and Chief Superintendent (now Assistant Commissioner) Richard Kelly told McHugh that they could not recall hearing such concerns, even though a number of other personnel described how they heard the reservations during case conferences and at other times during the investigation.

"It is apparent from the evidence that I have heard that the conflict remains to this day," Bermingham concludes.

However, he said that if the Director of Public Prosecutions had been told of these reservations by the senior officers that contacted his office, Lyons would not have been charged on 27 July 1997.

On 16 August 1997, Mark Nash, who had been arrested for another double murder, confessed to killing the two women in Grangegorman. He subsequently retracted his confession a month later, in September 1997.

In October 1997, a Garda file recommending the prosecution of Dean Lyons for the murder of both Mary Callinan and Sylvie Sheils was submitted by Gordon to the Chief State Solicitor's office.

In March 1998, McHugh, who was by now firmly convinced of Dean Lyon's innocence, recommended the charges be dropped and in April the DPP directed that the proceedings against him be discontinued.

Subsequent charges against Mark Nash in connection with the Grangegorman murders were also dropped.

On 12 September 2000, Dean Lyons died in Manchester just a day after being released from Strangeways Prison, where he had been serving a short sentence.

"Apart from being a tragedy for his family, this constituted a very severe setback for the prospects of a prosecution [of the killer of Mary Callinan and Sylvie Sheils]," Berminham concluded.

It remains unclear how the 23-year-old drug addict was able to outwit several experienced police investigators to acquire intimate knowledge of a crime which he could not have committed.p