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'Adds insult to injury': Gsoc highly critical of gardaí for losing files in Fr Niall Molloy probe

Gsoc has published a scathing report into deficiencies in the investigation files into the priest’s murder.

Father Niall Molloy's brother Billy, with a photo of the priest in 1986.
Father Niall Molloy's brother Billy, with a photo of the priest in 1986.
Image: Rollingnews.ie

THE GARDA SÍOCHÁNA Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) has said that files going missing from the case of the murder of Father Niall Molloy “adds insult to injury” for the man’s family.

Its investigation into the case found that “many original documents including exhibits are missing”, with no record for who handled the exhibits and who may have been responsible for them now being lost.

Father Molloy was found dead in the home of his friends Therese Flynn and her husband Richard in Clara, Co Offaly in July 1985.

Richard Flynn was charged with Father Molloy’s manslaughter, but acquitted after the jury was directed by the judge to find the defendant not guilty.

The family of the priest have fought a long battle to restart an investigation into his death. In May 2015, a government review of the case backed a decision from the DPP not to have a fresh inquiry into his death.

Molloy’s nephew Henry McCourt made a complaint to Gsoc about the handling of the case in June 2016. McCourt told Gsoc that the government review highlighted serious deficiencies in the original garda investigation.

McCourt argued that while no further inquiry into his uncle’s death was recommended, “this does not mean that the conduct of the garda investigation, and the performance of those garda members involved, could or should not be investigated further”.

Gsoc noted that, given the passage of time, most members of the gardaí from the original investigation would now be retired and current legislation prohibits it from investigating the actions of retired members in disciplinary investigations.

Nevertheless, a “significant amount of material” from the original garda investigation from 1985 was furnished to Gsoc, along with the chance to inspect the documents in garda possession.

Gsoc said: “However it became apparent during the Gsoc investigation that many original documents including exhibits are missing. There appears to be no record of handling of exhibits, and as such the person responsible for their loss cannot be identified.

The Senior Investigating Office in the gardaí involved with the Molloy investigation endeavoured to find the missing exhibits including searching the Forensic Science Laboratory. By the end of the Gsoc investigation the exhibits remained missing.

Its investigation confirmed that members of the original team were retired, and that State Pathologist Dr John Harbison is also retired. This prevented the investigation from proceeding further, Gsoc said.

Writing to Acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin in February, Gsoc said:

What has disturbed the Commission is the fact that despite extensive searches by garda personnel it would appear that many original documents and all the exhibits could not be found which may have assisted us in our enquiries.
Safekeeping of documents and exhibits has become even more pertinent with the developments we see on a regular basis in relation to forensic advances and the ability to solve serious cases years, and decades later, continues to develop apace.

It also noted that the pain still felt by Father Molloy’s family was “compounded by a belief that a poor investigation was carried out into their uncle’s death at the time”.

“The lack of regard shown to the evidence and documentation in this matter in the intervening years by gardaí in many ways adds insult to injury which is clearly not a result anyone would wish to see,” it added.

The acting commissioner acknowledged the letter from Gsoc that same month, and indicated that enquiries were being conducted into this matter.

A reminder was sent by Gsoc to the Garda HQ, who responded on 16 May to say that a report on the issues was awaited. No response has yet been received, Gsoc added.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a garda spokesperson said: “An Garda Síochána will examine the report’s findings relating to the organisation to see what lessons can be learnt.

“As part of its Modernisation and Renewal Programme An Garda Síochána has introduced PEMS (Property and Exhibit Management System) to ensure the proper recording and storage of all exhibits.”

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Sean Murray

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