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Kerry babies: Joanne Hayes hopes 'ordeal finally behind us' as judge says tribunal findings were unfounded and inaccurate

The Garda Commissioner and Justice Minister have apologised to Ms Hayes and her family.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Dec 18th 2020, 12:50 PM

JOANNE HAYES RECEIVED a State apology in the High Court today owing to what happened to her in what became known as the Kerry Babies case. 

Ms Hayes was accused of being the mother of a baby boy found stabbed to death on a beach in Cahersiveen 36 years ago.

Two years ago she received an apology from gardaí but today received a State apology and compensation for her treatment. 

Today, a High Court judge said the findings made in the original Tribunal of Inquiry against Ms Hayes and members of her family were unfounded and incorrect.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Justice Minister, via Conleth Bradley SC who was acting for the State, today reiterated the previous apology to Ms Hayes and wanted to extend it to her family. Ms Hayes was treated in an “appalling” way, Bradley noted.

“It is genuinely hoped their full vindication and resolution of these proceedings brings them some long-deserved comfort and resolution,” the apology he read in court noted.

Liam Reidy SC, for Ms Hayes, argued for all findings from the tribunal against Ms Hayes and her family to be declared unfounded and incorrect, and said this would give “the vindication that Joanne Hayes so desperately needs”.

Reidy said the tribunal process was a serious “intrusion of privacy” and amounted to the “character assassination” of Ms Hayes.

Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds described the treatment of Ms Hayes as a “travesty”.

The family secured declarations from the court that all findings or wrongdoing made against them by the tribunal were unfounded and incorrect.

The court also said their questioning, arrest, charge and prosecution in 1984 were unfounded and in breach of their constitutional rights.

“One can only hope this will bring about some closure for them in terms of the vindication they deserve”, the judge said.

The declarations by the High Court are to be attached to the tribunal report in the Oireachtas Library, to ensure the accuracy of the public record.

Ms Justice Reynolds said she hopes today will also bring some “closure to this very dark period in Irish history”.

‘I hope the ordeal is over’

In a statement, Joanne Hayes said she wanted to acknowledge those who’d supported her over the past 36 years, including the people of Abbeydorney and its surrounding parishes.

She said: “I would particularly like to thank my friends who, with their support and kindness, gave us hope and strength through the darkest moments of this ordeal. 

It is my sincere hope and belief that, after 36 years, the suffering and stress of this ordeal is now finally behind us. My only request is that our privacy is respected, and that we can return to our lives within our local community in peace.

In addition, a separate damages claim by Ms Hayes’s daughter Yvonne McGuckin has also been settled, and was struck out but no details of that settlement were confirmed.

Infamous case

The infamous case began when the body of newborn, since referred to as Baby John, was found on White Strand in April 1984. 

Ms Hayes, who lived over 75 km away in Abbeydorney, was accused of the murder after gardaí had heard that the then-25-year-old had been pregnant but was not seen with a baby. 

What we now know had happened was that two babies died tragically around the same time in April 1984: one born to Ms Hayes in Abbeydorney, which did not survive the birth, and one at the hand of an as-yet unknown person who stabbed the newborn multiple times.

Ms Hayes was accused of killing two babies after gardaí claimed they were both her children. 

Owing to inconsistencies relating to blood types, gardaí at the time made the startling leap of claiming she became pregnant by two different men at the same time, a phenomenon known as ‘superfecundation’.

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Ms Hayes and her family initially confessed to the murder but later withdrew the confessions, which they said were produced by coercion from gardaí, and said she had given birth to her baby, named Shane, at the family farm. Ms Hayes’ baby had died shortly after he was born and was buried on the farm.

After the charge of murder against Joanne Hayes was thrown out of court, the Kerry Babies Tribunal was set up to investigate the behaviour of the gardaí during the case. 

The Tribunal has been strongly criticised for the way in which it handled the case, from not fairly examining the evidence to the way in which witnesses were questioned. 

Despite a lack of forensic evidence, the Tribunal found that Ms Hayes had assaulted her newborn son with a bath brush, and choked him to death.

This finding was completely unsubstantiated and was made despite the fact that the former State Pathologist Dr John Harbison, who performed an autopsy was unable to determine the cause of Shane’s death.

Ms Hayes, and her siblings Edmund, Kathleen and Michael Hayes had sought for the High Court to declare all findings against them by the Tribunal to be unfounded and incorrect.

About the author:

Órla Ryan & Sean Murray

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