The report published last week by Justice Frederick Morris described the garda probe into Barron?s 1996 death — the victim of a hit-and-run incident near the Donegal village of Raphoe — as “prejudiced, tendentious and utterly negligent in the highest degree.”
Morris? report has put huge pressure on the Garda commissioner Noel Conroy who is tasked with making wide-ranging reforms to the force.
Morris said that investigating officers in Donegal had been “consumed” with the notion that Barron had been killed by Frank McBrearty Jnr. and his cousin Mark McConnell even though he had not been murdered.
Thirteen members of the McBrearty family were arrested as part of the “murder that never was” with Gardai claiming they were all part of a murder conspiracy.
Morris? report detailed attempts by individual Gardai and their informants to concoct evidence against the two men in a bid to secure a murder charge. They extracted an alleged confession from McBrearty that he had hit Barron over the head with a piece of timber. This was despite the conclusion of medical experts that Barron had most likely been hit by a car.
Four Gardai have so far been sacked from the force and an additional two have resigned. Five informants were later charged with having invented false statements against the McBreartys. Two were acquitted after claiming they had been manipulated by Gardai into making the statements.
Morris singled out four senior Garda officers for stern criticism. Chief superintendent Denis Fitzpatrick (now retired), Superintendent John Fitzgerald, Detective Superintendent Joseph Shelley and Detective John McGinley were mentioned specifically by Morris who said they “all share in various degrees the burden of fault for this matter.”
Conroy, who was then deputy commissioner, will face questions about his own judgment following the publication in a Sunday newspaper of a confidential report he authored in 2000 which appears to back the conduct of the initial investigation into Barron?s death.
Writing to the secretary general of the Department of Justice Conroy said: “The facts and suspicions established in the initial investigation in relation to the death of Richie Barron and detailed in the initial investigation report are largely accurate and have not been rebutted by the current [Carty] investigation.”
Conroy went on to say: “All of the witnesses that were included in the initial investigation file were re-interviewed and they all confirm that their original statements were correct.”
Justice minister Michael McDowell has also faced questions over his handling of the controversy. McDowell, who was Attorney General at the time, was criticized by opposition politicians for opposing the setting up of an tribunal into the Donegal affair.
The McBrearty family have called for his resignation. However McDowell turned the criticism on members of the “Rainbow Coalition” government who were in place at the time of Barron?s death.
Labor party TD Brendan Howlin accused McDowell have having an “appalling brass neck” in attempting to pin blame on former government ministers.
“That shows an appalling brass neck. In terms of the whole McBrearty issue, it did not emerge in full until 1999. The truth and full knowledge of it was available then to the Minister for Justice and to the then Attorney General, Michael McDowell,” said Howlin.