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'We're not getting justice': Shane Tuohey's family kept in the dark in inquiry into his death

The 23-year-old man’s body was recovered from the River Brosna in 2002. His family believes he was murdered.

THE FAMILY OF a young man whose death is now the subject of a State inquiry say they have not been told anything about that investigation which was announced back in 2016. 

Shane Tuohey was 23 when his body was recovered from the River Brosna in Offaly in 2002, a week after he went missing. The night he disappeared he had been out drinking with friends in his hometown of Clara. 

At the time, the garda investigation concluded his death was suicide, but his family believes he was assaulted on the night he died.

Shane Tuohey was 23-year-old when he went missing in his home town of Clara in Co Offaly.

In June 2016, then Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald announced a “special inquiry” would be launched to examine the circumstances of his death and the handling of the investigation.

The inquiry differs from a commission investigation, which is established to examine matters of urgent public concern, and a tribunal which is held in public. The special inquiry, held in private, was established to look at one particular investigation and the circumstances around it. 

The establishment of the probe came after the government’s Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) had looked at the case. It was one of five cases out of 320 examined that went forward for an inquiry. The INM had been set up in 2014 to consider allegations of garda misconduct or inadequacies in investigations. 

More than two years on from Fitzgerald’s announcement about the inquiry, the Tuohey family say they are being kept out of it and only know what is happening with the probe because of third-party information.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this week, Shane’s father Eamon described his disappointment with the work of the inquiry so far. He said other families in inquiries have been allowed to attend, but none of the young man’s close relatives have even been invited to give evidence yet. 

“We are completely kept out of it, we’re not allowed to attend it, our solicitor isn’t allowed to go to it,” he said of the ongoing witness hearings. 

sdr Shane's father Eamon and sister Gemma in Dublin earlier this week. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

We don’t know when it started, we’re not told when it’s to end, we don’t know who the witnesses are. We are told now in the last two or three months we’re not to give any more evidence, he [the judge] doesn’t want anymore.

They have provided documentary evidence to the judge but haven’t been called to give oral testimony.

He said the fact that the family has had to push the State for 16 years for a proper investigation into Shane’s death has added to their trauma.

In 2008 Tuohey was convicted of threatening to kill three men he believed were involved in Shane’s death. He was given a five year suspended sentence. 

“We’re not getting justice,” he said. Tuohey said the family had never asked for a lengthy inquiry, they just want to know what happened to Shane. 

We want what we didn’t get the first day, we want an investigation into his death. I believe he was murdered.

Lost tapes, a bogus statement

Shane’s family said he had been intimidated and physically abused by a group of men his age in the months leading up to his death and they were told this continued on the night he went missing.

An inquest recorded the manner of his death was drowning, but his family disputes this. Shane had no water in his lungs or stomach and two forensic experts in the US hired by the family have said that while drowning is a still a possibility in this case, homicide can not be ruled out and this line of inquiry should be pursued.

An investigation in 2006 into the handling of this case found aspects of it might have been dealt with more professionally, but it still supported the original finding of probable suicide. 

In 2015, RTÉ’s Philip Boucher-Hayes reported that 17 CCTV tapes from the town with footage of the night Shane disappeared turned up in a locker 13 years after gardaí lost them. 

The inquiry is tasked with establishing the significance of CCTV footage from the town. 

Boucher-Hayes had previously reported on a number of issues with the initial investigation into the young man’s death. 

This includes the taking of a statement from a woman who “by her own admission” is a chronic alcoholic. In her statement she said she had been in a relationship with Shane and that he had spoken regularly about suicide. 

Her brother told Boucher-Hayes in 2006 that she was not in a relationship with Shane and that she barely knew him. At the inquest she refuted everything that was in her unsigned statement to gardaí and said she was not sober when it was taken.

Shane’s family insist he had not mentioned suicide to them and did not have mental health issues. 

The inquest heard evidence from state pathologist Dr John Harbison that there was “froth” in Shane’s bronchial airways. His typewritten notes recorded that there were “sketchy reports” that the young man was suicidal, but no mention of allegations he may have been assaulted.

The terms of reference for this inquiry state that it should establish the significance of the pathology evidence obtained by the Tuohey family. Eamon said the two US forensic experts they hired to look at Shane’s case are willing to travel to Ireland to give evidence to the inquiry and are awaiting an invitation. 

‘A source of great trauma’

The family’s solicitors have written several times to the inquiry requesting access. 

In recent correspondence to the inquiry they mentioned a case in the European Court of Human Rights, which held that parents of a man killed in prison were not involved in the investigation to the extent necessary to safeguard their interests.

In that case the parents were only allowed to attend the inquiry into their son’s death for the three days they gave evidence and they had to wait for the final report to find out the substance of the evidence about what happened. 

Independents4Change TD Clare Daly, who has campaigned for justice for the Tuohey family said they have been “ostracised from the inquiry”.

“This is very disappointing. Shane, was a healthy 23-year-old, the failure by An Garda Síochána to adequately investigate are the source of great trauma to the Tuohey family,” she said.

To compound that further by denying their concerns about the current inquiry is appalling treatment and should be rectified without delay.

TheJournal.ie asked the Department of Justice for a comment about the Tuohey family’s criticism of the inquiry. We also asked if the Minister for Justice was willing to meet the family to hear their concerns. 

The department said:

“The inquiry was established in accordance with section 42 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Judge Donagh McDonagh, a retired judge of the Circuit Court, was appointed to conduct the inquiry.

“The inquiry is fully independent of the minister and it would be inappropriate for him to interfere in any way in the conduct of the inquiry. Provided that principles of fair procedure are observed, procedures relating to the conduct of this particular Inquiry are a matter solely for Judge McDonagh.”

The department did not address whether the minister was willing to meet with the Tuohey family. 

TheJournal.ie has requested comment from the inquiry. 

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