Gardaí criticised over Grangegorman 'confession'

Inappropriate leading questions by investigating gardaí led homeless drug addict Dean Lyons to make a false confession to a double murder, an inquiry concluded today.

A Commission of Investigation into the case found garda written records of some interviews with the suspect were incomplete, potentially misleading and could have led to a miscarriage of justice.

And although some investigating gardaí openly expressed scepticism over the confessions at case conferences, the doubts were never conveyed to the Director of Public Prosecutions as would have been proper.

Mr Lyons was charged with the murder of Sylvia Sheils (59) and Mary Callinan (61), who were stabbed to death in their beds in March 1997 in sheltered accommodation run by St Brendan’s psychiatric hospital in Grangegorman, Dublin.

The charges were dropped seven months later. He died in England afterwards. Gardai issued an unprecedented apology to his family for charging an innocent man.

In his report, the commission’s sole member, Mr George Birmingham SC, described the decision of the original investigation team to recommend a murder charge and an additional charge related to the second death as “difficult to understand and even harder to justify”.

However, the report concluded there was no deliberate attempt to undermine Mr Lyons. His confessions were attributable to prior existing vulnerabilities within his personality, compounded by his heroin addiction, it was found.

Mark Nash, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a Roscommon couple in August 1997, confessed to the Grangegorman murders, providing details that could only have been known to somebody at the scene.

He later withdrew the confession and was never charged in relation to the Dublin murders. It was only after this second suspect emerged that any formal Garda assessment was given to Mr Lyon’s false admissions.

Assistant Commissioner James McHugh led a team that poured over both confessions for 10 days. A report was then submitted to the state recommending the case against Mr Lyons proceed.

A few months later in January 1998, the McHugh team produced another report saying they believed Mr Lyons had no part in the murders, a view upheld by experts in unreliable confessions.

This led the DPP to drop the charges.

The report stated Mr Lyons, who was 24-years-old at the time he was charged, was borderline mentally handicapped, and using heroin for up to four years. Psychological testing showed he was abnormally suggestible with a long track record of telling false stories convincingly.

The report highlights the actions of both Detective Sergeant Robert McNulty and Detective Garda Dominic Cox in two of the most significant interviews with Mr Lyons.

The latter detective, the less senior of the two, expressed misgivings about the interviewee’s credibility on two occasions, referring to him as a ‘Walter Mitty’.

But his views were not taken onboard by the detectives, including two senior officers leading the murder probe, according to the report.

Detective Garda Alan Bailey (now Detective Sergeant) and the now retired Sergeant Matt Mulhall also gave voice to reservations.

But instead of challenging the confession, the Garda team “drew comfort” from the admissions which were taken at “face value”, it was found.

Detective Superintendent Cormac Gordon, who led the investigation, recommended to the DPP that a murder charge be brought.

And while the state was given a good overview of the evidence, it was not informed about differences in opinion among his team.

Mr Birmingham states no charges would have been laid had the DPP been made aware of this.

After charges were brought, investigating officers continued to try to validate the false admissions rather than analyse them, he said.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell welcomed as “timely and cost effective” the report of the commission’s investigation, which took just under six months at a cost of less than €1m to the taxpayer.

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