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Rabbitte unaware of defamation case 'until weeks before court listing'

Court action concerned remarks made by Pat Rabbitte on RTÉ in 2006 about the charging of Dean Lyons for murders he did not commit.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS Pat Rabbitte has said he was not aware of a defamation action related to remarks he made on RTÉ in 2006 until weeks before it was listed for hearing six years later.

The court action, which was settled on confidential terms last week without any admission of liability, concerned remarks made by Rabbitte on RTÉ regarding the arrest and charging of Dean Lyons, 24, for two murders in 1997.

“While I was not party to the case,” Rabbitte said today, “I had agreed to appear as a witness.”

Two women – Mary Callinan, 61, and Sylvia Shields, 59 – were stabbed to death in Grangegorman, Dublin in March 1997. Lyons was charged over the killings, but the charges were later dropped after another person confessed to the killings.

Rabbitte’s remarks on RTÉ were made following the publication of the Bermingham Report in 2006 following then-senior counsel George Birmingham’s inquiry into the case.

In his statement today, Rabbitte said that Lyons, who was one of his constituents, “confessed to gardaí to a savage double murder at Grangegorman that he did not commit.”

Rabbitte said he had pursued “this potential miscarriage of justice” and called for a public inquiry:

Mr Lyons’ confession set out details of the crime, some of which could only have been known to the murderer or the Garda Síochána. He was 24 years old, a heroin addict and, at the time of his arrest, he was sleeping rough and in hostels in the north inner city. He was also border line mentally handicapped.

The Bermingham Report into the Dean Lyons case found that Lyons had acquired the information relating to the murders from the gardaí who were interviewing him. It found that the procedures set out in Judges’ Rules for taking statements were not followed, but also said that Lyons “was not abused or ill treated in any way during the detention”.

The report continues: “His admissions were not produced by oppression or coercive conduct on the part of the gardaí. Neither were the admissions produced as a result of anything in the nature of a bribe or inducement. There was no deliberate attempt to frame Dean Lyons.”

The inquiry also reported that one of the interviewers and two significant figures on the garda investigation team (including Det Garda Alan Bailey who was the plaintiff in the action against RTÉ) expressed misgivings and reservations about the degree of reliance which could be placed on Lyons’ statements.

Rabbitte said today that Lyons was only released after another man confessed to the murders during the investigation of an unrelated case. Lyons had spent eight months in custody.

After an enquiry into Lyons’ case, the Garda Commissioner declared he was satisfied that Lyons had no part in those murders and in 2005 published an apology to Lyons’ family in the national media.

“The apology was, of course, to the Lyons family, since Dean Lyons had died in Manchester from a heroin overdose,” Rabbitte said today.

No one has been convicted of the murders of Mary Callinan and Sylvia Shields.

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