Joanne Hayes seeks declarations over ‘untrue’ contents of Kerry Babies Tribunal
Woman wrongly accused of murdering an infant 35 years ago and siblings are also seeking damages
File photograph from 1985 of Joanne Hayes leaving the tribunal of enquiry into the Kerry Babies. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Joanne Hayes, who was wrongly accused of murdering an infant over 35 years ago, and her siblings, want the High Court to declare all findings of wrongdoing made against them by the Kerry Babies Tribunal were unfounded and incorrect. They are also seeking damages.
Ms Hayes, and her siblings Edmund, Kathleen and Michael Hayes, seek the declarations in a bid to finalise matters relating to events during the mid 1980s and to vindicate the family’s good name.
Ms Hayes and members of her family were arrested in 1984 by gardaí following the discovery of a new born baby with multiple stab wounds in Cahersiveen, in south Kerry, some 80km from Ms Hayes’ home in Abbeydorney in north Kerry. The parents of that child, called baby John, have never been identified, nor has his killer.
Joanne Hayes was accused of being baby John’s mother and of murdering him while her family were accused of concealing the birth of a child. After their arrest in May 1984, Ms Hayes and her family say, following wrongful acts by gardaí, they were forced into making false confessions admitting the killing of baby John, which they later withdrew. The charges of which they were all innocent were dropped in October 1984.
Ms Hayes had given birth to a baby boy, named Shane, on April 13th, 1984 on the family farm but that child died and was buried on the family farm. She claims a proper Garda investigation of the matter would have eliminated her and her family as persons of interest. Their arrest, interrogation and charge were improper after a blood test in May 1984 made it clear she was not the mother of baby John, she says.
She was also at one point in the investigation accused by gardaí of having given birth to twins which, she says, was used for the purpose of malicious and continued prosecution of them before the tribunal.
A tribunal of inquiry, known as the Kerry Babies Tribunal was established and conducted by the then Mr Justice Kevin Lynch. It heard evidence in late 1984 and early 1985. Ms Hayes and her family say the tribunal report contained numerous findings against them that were untrue, unfounded, not supported by any evidence, and purely speculative.
The findings included that Ms Hayes had assaulted her new born son Shane with a bath brush and choked him to death. She says this finding was completely unsubstantiated and was made despite the fact the former State Pathologist Dr John Harbison, who performed an autopsy, was unable to determine the cause of Shane’s death.
The family claim the Tribunal also wrongly found they lied to the tribunal, were involved in an attempted cover up regarding Shane’s death and had lied to and made false allegations against gardaí. They say the tribunal also inferred, without an explanation, that the false confessions made by the family arose out of a guilty conscience. The family say there was no basis for these findings.
Ms Hayes claims, during the hearings, the tribunal showed bias and a lack of fair procedures by allowing gardaí to imply she was “promiscuous”, “a woman of loose morals”, make unfounded statements about her relationship with Jeremiah Locke, her former partner, and about her sexual history.
She says an inappropriate analogy which the Tribunal allowed to be used was an argument that Joanne Hayes had given birth to twins by two different fathers, in circumstances which medical evidence from other parties said was baseless. She also claims the tribunal also showed bias when it permitted the public airing of testimony by medical experts about Ms Hayes private health and gynaecological details, when it had a power to do so in private.
During the tribunal, it is claimed gardaí took false and unjustifiable positions by stating none of the Hayes family were stressed or upset during their interrogations, and the questioning was unrelated to baby John but rather Ms Hayes’ own pregnancy.
In 2018, Ms Hayes from Tralee in Co Kerry received apologies over her treatment from then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, on behalf of the State, and the then acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin . The siblings have brought High Court proceedings against the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, Ireland and the Attorney General where she seeks various declarations and damages.
They seek declarations that the investigation, as well as her questioning, arrest, charge and prosecution on dates between April and October 1984 were unfounded and in breach of her constitutional rights. She also seeks a declaration that any finding of wrongdoing contained in the 1985 report of the Tribunal inquiry into the Kerry Babies Case are unfounded and incorrect and in breach of her constitutional rights.
The matter was briefly mentioned before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds at the High Court on Wednesday afternoon when Liam Reidy SC, for Ms Hayes, said it was being made as part of ongoing discussions between the family and the State defendants.
If the declarations are made by the court, the defendants have agreed to prominently attach the relevant orders to all copies of the report of the 1985 Tribunal of Inquiry, the court heard. The judge granted permission to serve short notice of the applications for the formal declarations and returned the matter to next week.