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Why did it take five years for a controversial missing person case to be upgraded to murder?

The case of Pat Heeran, who disappeared in 2011, was raised in the Dáil last year as an example of alleged garda malpractice.

PAT HEERAN WAS a 48-year-old bachelor who lived alone in a bungalow at Cois Easa in Aughavas in Co Leitrim. He was close to his mother Irene and called her regularly. His family describe him as having been a lively person who did not always make the most sensible life choices or keep the best company.

On the afternoon of 3 October 2011, he visited Baxter’s supermarket in Mohill. He then returned to his home, where he spoke to someone on the phone at 5.46pm. He opened a can of cider and drank half of it.

For some reason, Pat left his home again that evening, leaving the half-finished can of cider on the coffee table next to his cigarettes. He locked the door behind him and he has not been seen or heard from since.

Screenshot 2017-07-06 at 14.02.09 Gardaí believe Pat had not intended to leave his home for an extended period of time. Source: An Garda Síochána

In May last year, his case was highlighted, not through an appeal for information, but in the Dáil as an example of alleged garda malpractice. Local Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny said around the time Pat was reported missing “there was a memo distributed to gardaí about a Pat from Leitrim having been abducted and killed”.

Kenny claimed that after gardaí visited the man’s home, there was a belief that something sinister may have happened. Speaking under Dáil privilege, he said:

However, senior gardaí dismissed this possibility and told them to make the usual inquiries and he would turn up drunk somewhere.

“After some time, when gardaí management finally agreed to seal off and examine the house, they found it had been burgled in the meantime and was therefore forensically violated for the purpose of evidence gathering,” Martin said last year.

Source: Cathy Power/YouTube

The Sinn Féin TD also told the Dáil that there were a number of individuals linked to the missing man who were never questioned.

It is now known that a garda informant was among the last people to be in Pat Heeran’s company before he disappeared.

“Pat Heeran has never been found and his mother and siblings are heartbroken.

The question is, ‘Was the protection of informants put before the proper investigation into the disappearance of Pat Heeran?’

This question was put to gardaí at a media briefing in Carrick-on-Shannon yesterday morning.

“I’m not here to deal with what happens in the Dáil, I’m here to lead a murder inquiry,” was the response given by Inspector Ray Mulderrig.

A combination of factors

He was also there to tell reporters that the missing person investigation had been upgraded to a murder inquiry on 17 October 2016 – five months after Martin Kenny raised it in the Dáil. And just over five years since Pat Heeran was last seen.

Source: An Garda Síochána

So, why five years later? Gardaí said the decision was made due to a “combination of factors”.

These include:

  • The findings of the missing person investigation found Pat made no contact with any member of his family.
  • He did not possess an up-to-date passport and there has been no new application for one. Alerts at ports and airports have not yielded any sightings.
  • Pat was in receipt of social welfare payments which have not been collected since 5 October 2011.
  • There has been no other financial activity recorded for the missing man.
  • Pat was dependent on regular medication and visited his GP on a regular basis, but there are no records to show any activity in the form of health services since he disappeared.
  • All reported sightings of Pat have been followed up by gardaí without success.

When asked whether new evidence had come to light recently to prompt this move, Mulderrig said:

No, well see the investigation commenced on 14 October [2011] and continued over the years and it had never stopped. And obviously we are led by the evidence and where that evidence takes us.

He pointed out that the Serious Crime Review team had looked at the case in 2014 and made almost 40 recommendations, all of which have since been actioned.

“It’s as a result of all of these matters and the exhaustive nature of the missing person inquiry that we are satisfied that Pat Heeran was murdered and that it should have been reclassified as it was,” he said.

‘An enormous amount of work’

Investigating officers were asked repeatedly yesterday about the quality of the missing person investigation, how much attention it was given in the early stages in 2011, and whether they were fully satisfied that everything that could have been done at the time was done.

Reporters were provided with a five-page press release, which outlined in unusual detail all of the actions taken by gardaí to find out what happened to Pat Heeran in the past six years.

These include:

  • 29 case conferences
  • Interviews with family and friends, and house-to-house enquiries in the local area.
  • Inquiries made with the local social welfare office and his GP.
  • Two searches at his home on 15 and 16 October 2011 and a search in the general area on 22 October.
  • The examination of phone data to determine who he was in contact with and where he was at the time.
  • Obtaining CCTV footage and witness statements about his last movements.
  • Media appeals, including a Crimestoppers appeal on 2 May 2013.
  • Searches of land, waterways and vacant houses as well as 35 acres of forest in Belturbet, Co Cavan in June 2014.
  • National and international inquiries through Interpol, which remain active today. Pat had lived in both the Netherlands and Australia in the past.
  • The arrests of three people in November 2014, all of whom were released without charge.

Source: An Garda Síochána

Gardaí did confirm that, as Martin Kenny claimed last year, the missing man’s house was broken into in the period following his disappearance. However, they said this happened over a week after their search of the bungalow, during which they took photographs and video footage.

To demonstrate his belief that gardaí have been completely dedicated to this case, Mulderrig provided an example:

We, as a result of a Crimestoppers appeal, became aware that there was an individual in the city of London. We went to London and in the city of London we found that individual. We interviewed that individual and we satisfied ourselves that that individual, despite having an extremely close resemblance to Patrick Heeran, we identified that individual, located that individual, interviewed him and eliminated him from our inquiries.

That’s in a city the size of London, with a population the size of London. I think that indicates the level of detail that the missing person investigation had.

dav Damien Brennan (far left) with lead investigators who said they believe Pat Heeran's death was a result of foul play. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

Pat’s cousin Damien Brennan, who spoke on behalf of the family yesterday, also commended gardaí for their work on this case over the years.

“The family are very satisfied with the investigation and really appreciative of the efforts of the gardaí,” he said.

In the very beginning, it seemed like to us Pat’s gone away someplace and then it was very definitely missing persons for a long time, in our own minds and in everybody’s minds. And then eventually the reality of where we are dawned on everybody starting with the family and obviously with the guards as well.

“They’ve done an enormous amount of work and they’ve always kept us up to date on every single development. The door has always been open to us at the highest level here, so we really do want to thank them for that,” Brennan said.

The lead investigators said that although evidence and information from the missing person inquiry would be used now, this investigation is starting “from scratch”.

“We have a new team in there and I think it’s in everybody’s interests that this is looked at freshly,” Inspector Mulderrig said. Witnesses will be interviewed again and new searches will be carried out.

IMG_20170706_124133 Members of the Defencce Forces searched a 500 x 200m area of land in Aughavas, Co Leitrim. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

Yesterday’s media briefing coincided with the first of these searches in a field adjacent to Pat’s home in Aughavas. Around 30 members of the Defence Forces were involved and gardaí said the search area will be expanded as the investigation continues.

The inspector said the team is confident it can bring this case to a conclusion.

“We will find the body of Patrick Heeran and have the people responsible brought to justice.”

Gardaí are asking anyone with information to contact Manorhamilton Garda Station on 0719820626, The Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111 or any garda station.

Read: Missing Leitrim man ‘didn’t realise how violent’ people he befriended were>

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