The Kerry Babies I

On Tuesday 16 January 2018, Superintendent Flor Murphy gave a press conference in Cahirsiveen, co Kerry (here). He said:

It is a matter of significant regret for An Garda Síochána that it has taken such a long time for it to be confirmed that Ms Hayes is not the mother of Baby John.

On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I would like to sincerely apologise to Ms Hayes for that, as well as the awful stress and pain she has been put through as a result of the original investigation into this matter, which fell well short of the required standards.

The Tribunal headed by Mr Justice Kevin Lynch into that investigation rightly criticised many aspects of that investigation. For those failings, I apologise.

The Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar, also apologised to Ms Joanne Hayes on behalf of the state.

Who were the Kerry Babies? How many babies were there? Was one imaginary? Why, if it was clear in 1985 that Joanne Hayes could not have been the mother of Baby John, had it taken so long for the Garda to accept this? What was the Tribunal of Inquiry about? How did it all become a Kafkaesque nightmare?

At the time, the events were widely reported; several books were written. I have taken my reconstruction from these books and from the Report of the Tribunal. None of these is a complete record of events; my reconstruction is a compilation of them all.

On Saturday 14 April 1984 the body of a male infant was found at the White Strand near Cahirsiveen. This was reported to the Garda. As the infant was being removed to the his vehicle, the undertaker, Mr Tom Cournane, scooped some water from a stream and said, ‘I baptise thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I call thee John’.

The infant was taken to Killarney Hospital the following day. Dr John Harbison, the State Pathologist, performed a post-mortem examination. His written report is not available. Marks had been noted on the infant’s body. The examination showed that the infant had sustained 28 stab wounds to the neck and chest; this was described as a ‘frenzy’. The infant’s neck had been broken; there was some bruising beneath the skull. The umbilical cord had been divided flush with he abdominal wall.

The Garda began a murder inquiry. On the not unreasonable basis that the infant had been the result of a concealed pregnancy, and that the murder had been done by the mother, they attempted to find any such woman. They were unsuccessful. They sought assistance from the ‘Murder Squad’ who were based in Dublin. Enquiries were made in maternity units throughout Kerry, if these had noticed any suspicious events. Eventually, they discovered that a young woman had been admitted to St Catherine’s Hospital in Tralee on 14 April. She was found to have a soft uterus the size of a 18 week pregnancy; an ultrasound scan had shown that the uterus was ‘empty’; and she had a perineal tear. The medical staff thought that she had delivered a baby, which the woman denied. Her haemoglobin level at 8.7 g/dl was low and she was transfused with two units of blood. She was discharged on 21 April.

The woman was Joanne Hayes; she lived with other members of her family on a farm near Abbeydorney, a village a few miles north of Tralee. She was known to have had a previous baby fathered by her married lover, Jeremiah Locke.

The investigating team was joined by Superintendent John Courtney, the deputy head of the ‘Murder Squad’ and other members of the squad. There was a police conference on Monday 30 April. The following day, Joanne Hayes was brought to Tralee garda station, as were her two brothers, her sister and her maternal aunt, Ms Bridie Fuller. Joanne’s mother was questioned in the family home. Jeremiah Locke was also questioned at the garda station. Joanne and her siblings were voluntarily at the police station, ‘helping with inquiries’ as was Ms Fuller. Jeremiah Locke did not deny paternity.

What happened next became contentious. Statements were taken, and Joanne Hayes was charged with the murder of a baby and kept in custody. Charges of being an accessory were laid against her siblings, Kathleen, Edmund (Ned) and Michael (Mike) and her aunt, Bridie Fuller. Charges were not brought against Joanne’s mother, Mary Hayes. Family members made oral complaints to the family solicitor the next day; no record of this seems to have been taken. They later made written statements through him alleging intimidation by the Garda.

Joanne Hayes initially said that she had not been pregnant. She then gave a statement saying that she had been pregnant, and that late on Thursday 12 April or early on 13 April she had gone outside the farmhouse, and had delivered a baby ‘standing up’. This infant seems to have ‘cried’, and she put a hand over its mouth. She hid the baby in hay. Later on 13 April she had put the infant in a plastic bag and hidden it in a ‘pond’ on the farm, about 200 yards from the farmhouse. Some of the police believed her at the time. She repeated the essence of this multiple times; she asked many times to be taken to the farmhouse to show the police where the baby was. This request was refused. However, gardaí made two searches, but found nothing.

Joanne Hayes later made a third statement, a ‘confession’. She had given birth in her room. Some family members were present. The umbilical cord was cut some distance from the navel. She had then stabbed the baby in the front and back, and hit it on the head with a bath brush. On the basis of this statement she was charged. She was remanded in custody, initially in Limerick prison, then Limerick Psychiatric Hospital.

Apart from her aunt, Bridie Fuller, other family members initially denied any real knowledge of Joanne’s pregnancy, according to their later statements to their solicitor. They then made statements to the Garda in which Joanne had given birth in her bedroom, the baby had been stabbed and hit on the head. The baby was put in a bag and disposed of by putting it in the car and driving to near Slea Head where it was thrown in the sea. The statements were not wholly consistent; who had been present at the birth, and whether the two brothers or both of them and Joanne’s sister had been in the car; and whether the baby was in the boot, or in the back of the two-door car; and where exactly it was disposed of into the sea. (There are, apparently, details in the ‘confessions’ which were not reported in the press but which were known to the Garda.)

The Garda at this stage believed in the confessions, that Joanne Hayes had given birth in her bedroom, in the presence of family members, that Joanne had stabbed the infant and hit it on the head; and that the infant had been disposed of, to be then found on the White Strand beach near Cahirsiveen, across the bay from Slea Head. They thought that they had solved the mystery of the Cahirsiveen baby.

On Wednesday 3 May, Kathleen and Ned Hayes found the plastic bag containing Joanne’s dead infant. It was where she had said it would be. After some persuasion, two gardaí retrieved the bag and infant. A postmortem was performed the day after. The pathologist, Dr John Harbison, was unable to come to a definite conclusion. Parts of the lungs, seemingly, were unexpanded, suggesting that the infant had not established ‘an independent existence’. There was some ‘bruising’ on the neck; there was no evidence of choking, the larynx was intact. No written report is available.

Also on 3 May, the gardaí in Tralee were telephoned by Dr Fennelly from Limerick Psychiatric Hospital. He told the officer that Joanne Hayes had retracted her statement of confession in relation to the birth of a baby in her bedroom and her stabbing and choking of it. She did not retract her initial statement where she described giving birth outside. He said:

No way was the Cahirsiveen baby hers.

The call was logged; no action was taken by the Garda.

Later, the blood groups of the Cahirsiveen baby, the Tralee baby, and of Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke were determined, either from tissue samples or directly. Both Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke were group O, as was the Tralee baby. The Cahirsiveen baby was group A. Thus, Joanne Hayes and Jeremiah Locke could not together be the parents of the Cahirsiveen baby. (Much later it was shown that neither Joanne Hayes nor Jeremiah Locke could have been parents of the Cahirsiveen baby.)

The guards considered the implications of this and the presence of two dead infants. They believed that Joanne Hayes’s third statement, in which she confessed to the murder, to be the ‘truth’. They then thought that her second statement, in which she described giving birth outside, was also the ‘truth’; that is, she had given birth to twins. Initially, there was a theory that her second baby had been disposed of as the family described, had drifted off to the Azores, and had not been found. It seemed unlikely that at about the same time, another infant with the same or similar stab wounds had been likewise disposed of. Thus, they concluded, the twins were conceived by two different fathers, Jeremiah Locke for the first twin, and another man of blood group A for the second, with two separate acts of intercourse and thus fertilisation occurring within 48 hours. This concurred with their belief that both of Joanne Hayes’s statements were the ‘truth’. This was therefore a case of heteropaternal superfecundation. A File of information and a Report were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The DPP, however, ordered that the prosecutions should not be proceeded with. The Hayes family subsequently made allegations against the police to their solicitor. Two internal inquires were begun; the Hayes and the Garda submitted written statements. The Hayes refused to be interviewed, as did most of the police. The inquiries were abandoned.

The Garda file of information and the report to the DPP were ‘leaked’ by ‘a source’ to Don Buckley, a journalist, sometime before 10 October when it was announced in Court that the charges were being dropped. He and Joe Joyce wrote a series of articles for the Sunday Independent on 14 October 1984, outlining the case up to the time when the charges were dropped.

In the presence of her solicitor, Joanne Hayes gave an interview to Barry O’Halloran, a reporter for the RTÉ programme Today Tonight, on 16 October; it was broadcast that evening.

Joanne talked about being pressurised and abused by the gardaí into making statements admitting to the stabbing of a baby. For the first time she spoke in detail about how she gave birth to a baby out in a field on her own. She described how she had left the baby there in the field and went back to bed, and how later in the night, she went out again but by now, the baby was cold and dead.

Public discussion was followed by a debate in both houses of the Oireachtas; both passed a motion calling for a Tribunal of Inquiry which was established by the Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, to ‘inquire into and report on the following matters of urgent public importance’:

(1) the facts and circumstances leading to the preferment on 1 May, 1984, of criminal charges against Joanne Hayes, Edmund Hayes, Michael Hayes, Kathleen Hayes and Bridie Fuller, Dromcunnig Lower, Abbeydorney, County Kerry in connection with the death of an unnamed male infant and subsequent events which led to the withdrawal of those charges at Tralee District Court on 10 October 1984;

(2) related allegations made by Joanne Hayes, Mary Hayes, Edmund Hayes and Michael Hayes in written statements to their solicitor on 23 October 1984 and by Kathleen Hayes in a written statement to her solicitor on 24 October 1984 concerning the circumstances surrounding the questioning and the taking of statements from those persons on 1 May, 1984;

(3) any matters connected with or relevant to the matters aforesaid which the tribunal considers it necessary to investigate in connection with their inquiries into the matters mentioned at (1) and (2).

Mr Justice Kevin Lynch was appointed as the sole member of the tribunal. There were no assessors. There was no call for any recommendations. The Tribunal met for the first time at the end of December 1984 in Dublin, then moved to Tralee. Closing sessions were again held in Dublin. There were five legal teams, each with a solicitor and a senior and junior counsel. These were the Tribunal’s team, a team representing the DPP and the attorney general; a team for the Garda superintendents, one for the junior Garda ranks, and a team for all of the Hayes family. All the legal members were men; there was a single ban gharda (policewoman) among the 28 members of the police. A written report was submitted to the Minister on 3 October 1985, and accepted. The Report was not debated in the Oireachtas.

Joanne Hayes was in the witness box for five days. There are examples of the questions put to here here.

The Report not written as a dry legal document, rather it describes the events as they were thought to have happened and ‘balanced legal erudition with storytelling’. The Tribunal determined that Joanne Hayes had delivered her baby in her bed in the presence of some family members. The story about a birth outside in the field was a fabrication; the story about stabbing the infant was also fabricated as a conspiracy among the family members who had read of the finding of the Cahirciveen baby in the press and had assumed that it had been Joanne’s.

Scattered throughout the Report are the judge’s comments and criticisms. In a Summary, the Tribunal found 43 sections to be the ‘legal facts’. The Summary said that Joanne Hayes was not the mother of the Cahirsiveen baby, and that there were only ever two babies. The Tribunal accepted part of the ‘confessions’, that Joanne Hayes had given birth in her room in the presence of family members; it discarded the descriptions of the stabbing of the infant. It decided that there had been a family conspiracy.

16. The Tralee baby cried and Joanne Hayes put her hands on the baby’s throat to stop it crying by choking it, as a result of which it died.

17. Joanne Hayes also hit the Tralee baby with the bath brush in the presence of Mrs Hayes and Kathleen Hayes.

There is no clear forensic evidence for either of these statements. The Tribunal did make some criticism of the Gardaí handling of the case; not permitting Joanne Hayes to show the Gardaí where she had hidden her infant was ‘completely unjustified’. The Gardaí were criticised for not re-appraising the case when the Tralee baby was found. The twins theories were described as ‘unlikely, far-fetched, and self-contradictory’.

28. There was no assault on, or physical abuse of, any member of the Hayes family or Bridie Fuller by any member of the Gardaí.

In relation to the honesty of the family and the Gardaí, the Report stated:

…They are not barefaced lies on the part of the Gardaí (as regrettably is the case with members of the Hayes family) but they are an exaggeration over and above the true position, or a gliding of the lily, or wishful thinking elevated to the status of hard fact.

The Hayes family were repeatedly considered to be liars.

Mrs Mary Hayes got into the witness box, solemnly took the Oath and commenced patently lying through her teeth.

The Tribunal is regrettably coerced to the conclusion that Mrs Hayes committed blatant perjury in relation to the foregoing evidence.

The fact that the Hayes family lie about some aspects of the matter, does not necessarily mean that they lie about everything. First, insofar as they say things which are against their own interest, they are probably telling the truth because they would not falsely and unnecessarily expose themselves to criticism and unpleasant consequences by lies against their own interest. In relation to other topics also, it does not necessarily follow that these all must be untrue because they conspired together to give a false account of the birth of the baby in the field in order to try to absolve all the members of the Hayes family (other than Joanne Hayes) and Bridie Fuller from any responsibility for the death and disposal of the Tralee baby.

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