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'People forgot this baby was stabbed': Why did it take so long to test Baby John's DNA?

Gardaí have said they are determined to find out what happened to the baby boy.

THIS WEEK THE country’s police force and political leader publicly apologised to Joanne Hayes, a woman who was wrongly accused of the murder of a baby in Kerry in 1984.

It has been 34 years since the body of the infant boy, known as Baby John, was found on White Strand beach in Cahirsiveen. He had been stabbed 28 times.

The garda investigation and subsequent tribunal have been described as a witch-hunt against a young woman – just 23 at the time she was first accused  – and it is only now that gardaí have officially confirmed that Joanne Hayes was not the mother of the murdered Baby John.

The Hayes family two years ago called for a DNA test to finally set the record straight and the technology has been available to gardaí for over a decade. Questions are now being asked about why it took so long for the State to do this testing.

DNA testing in Ireland

The first ever case in which DNA evidence was used to determine the identity of a murderer in was in 1987. Investigators in the UK used DNA testing to help solve the ‘Black Pad’ murders in Leicestershire, England.

Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth, both aged 15, had been raped and murdered. Using DNA testing, police were able to identify killer Colin Pitchfork who later confessed to the crimes. This also marked the first case in which a prime suspect was exonerated due to DNA evidence.

Seven years later, the forensic science laboratory in Dublin introduced DNA technology in case work.

The first case involving DNA evidence was also heard before the Irish courts in 1994. In the case of DPP v Mark Lawlor, the suspect was accused of the sexual assault of an elderly woman called Rose Farrelly at her Dublin home during a burglary.

Forensic evidence against Lawlor included DNA from semen found on the victim’s clothing which matched a profile generated from his blood sample.

The defence in the court case challenged the validity of the DNA profiling and the security and integrity of the samples, but the forensic evidence was ultimately permitted to go to the jury and Lawlor was convicted.

Although legislation dealing with the establishment of a DNA database in Ireland came into law in 2014, it was not until November 2015 that the database was set up.

Protestors outside the Tribunal highlighted the horrific treatment of Joanne Hayes. Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Two years ago, Joanne Hayes’ solicitor Pat Matt released a statement which said Hayes had no problem submitting a blood sample to be tested against a sample of tissue of the dead infant, which was retained by the State.

‘We all knew she was innocent’

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, retired garda detective inspector Brendan McArdle said he did not believe there had been a deliberate delay in the last three decades in reviewing this case as no-one on the serious crime review team – Ireland’s cold case unit – would have had a connection to it.

“I think the people reviewing the case wouldn’t have been serving police officers at the time, people retired and a lot of the participants in the case are dead as well.”

However, he does think it may have been put to one side because of the general belief that Baby John was murdered by a parent.

There was this view, maybe it was postnatal depression and so on. At the end of the day, whether it was the mother or the father or an evil uncle or aunt who stabbed the baby, somebody did. People forgot this baby was stabbed. This was an infant – how anybody could do that I don’t know.

McArdle, who worked on a number of murder investigations during his career, also said this case highlights how important it is that investigators do not focus too rigidly on one theory or suspect early on in a case.

“It destroys the lateral and wider vision and thinking we should have on all of these things,” he explained.

It’s interesting that the first case that DNA was used to prove someone’s innocence was also the first case it was used to exonerate a person. Here they were probing the innocence of a woman. We all knew at the time of the tribunal that she [Joanne Hayes] was innocent but this is proof beyond proof.

Joanna Hayes Kerry Babies Tribunals Joanne Hayes with her sister Kathleen (L) arriving for the hearing at the Kerry Babies Tribunal in 1985. Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

‘Everything would be so much better’

In the early years of the use of DNA testing in Ireland, it was a time-consuming and expensive process and was therefore only used in some cases. Today, this technology is used in every case that the investigators and scientists believe it could help with.

Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) is the State’s official forensic testing and analysis service. This office does all forensic work for gardaí and is responsible for running the new DNA database.

Dr Dyan Daly, manager of the service’s DNA database team, told TheJournal.ie that the decision to bring experts from her teams in on a criminal case is always made by investigators.

“With the cold case review of cases, that would be very much driven from An Garda Síochána – their decision to review. Then they request the assistance of the lab to help them test exhibits.

“That typically starts with a meeting with gardaí and DNA experts. The exhibits are brought back to the lab and from the time we bring them back it could be a couple of hours to a couple of days depending on what work we do.

“The most typical, if you’re looking at a bloodstain, that would take an hour or so to get the sample ready and from the time the sample is ready to DNA profiling, that typically takes a day and a half if you’re doing nothing else.”

She said it would take about the same time then to do a DNA work-up for a person they want to compare this profile to.

I can’t explain why it would have taken such a long time [to test Baby John's DNA], but I do know that from our perspective, all of these small steps, the developments in technology, are coming together to build the yellow brick road, each brick making something else possible.

Although the DNA database is used to help with the solving of crime and to collect forensic data on suspects, its other function focuses on missing persons, unidentified bodies and their families.

Since the establishment of the database, FSI has collected DNA samples from over 100 families of missing persons.

“We’re mindful of cases where the identification and reunification with family is very important. We have a quick service to turn that around, and people drop everything to make that happen,” Daly explained.

“Should a child or infant’s body be recovered today, everything would be so much better about it – DNA would be better, there’d be lots of it, the systems are in place to deal with them as they should be dealt with.”

What happened to Baby John?

When Baby John’s body was found in April 1984, 25-year-old Joanne Hayes was known to have been pregnant around that time.

She and her family initially confessed to the baby’s murder, but later withdrew these confessions, which they said were procured by coercion from gardaí. They said Joanne had given birth at the family farm, but that her baby had died shortly after birth and was buried on the farm.

Gardaí did not search the family farm to verify this and Hayes was charged with murder on 1 May. A day later, a member of the family brought gardaí to the farm where they found Joanne’s baby buried.

When blood test results indicated Joanne and Jeramiah Locke – the father of the baby buried on the farm - could not be the parents of the Cahirsiveen Baby, gardaí pushed the theory that the 25-year-old woman had sex with two different men over 48 hours and became pregnant by both.

After the charge of murder against the young woman was thrown out of court, a Tribunal was set up to investigate the behaviour of gardaí in the case. This Tribunal has been strongly criticised for the way in which it handled the case and the way in which it allowed Joanne Hayes to be treated throughout.

Now 34 years after this ordeal began, Joanne Hayes has received a long overdue apology. But still the murder of Baby John, stabbed 28 times, his infant body discarded in the sea, has not been solved.

Gardaí have begun a review into the death of the baby boy and they are appealing for anyone living in the area in early 1984 to come forward with information, no matter how small it may seem.

Detective Chief Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan of the serious crime squad says the case has a good chance of drawing to a successful conclusion. When queried as to how the DNA profile may be utilised, he suggested that relying on existing genetic samples may not be necessary.

“What this means is that we can act on information and call on certain persons and ask them to give us their DNA,” he said.

While this investigation team cannot change what happened in the past, we can help find the answers into what happened to Baby John and are determined to do so.

“These events generally are local. The answers are local.”

Read: There is more than one apology due over the abysmal Kerry Babies saga>

Read: Leo Varadkar apologises to Joanne Hayes over Kerry Babies scandal>

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