Kerry babies: ‘Suffering of ordeal finally behind us’ – Joanne Hayes

State expresses deep regret at court over hurt and stress caused to accused family

The State has apologised to Joanne Hayes, the woman who was wrongly accused of murdering an infant more than 35 years ago, and her siblings over their treatment during events that became known as the Kerry babies case.

The apology, made before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds at the High Court on Friday and the reiterated one made in 2018, forms part of a settlement of damages actions brought by Ms Hayes, her sister Kathleen and brothers Michael and Edmund following their arrest by gardaí in May 1984.

Conleth Bradley SC for the State said it wished to express its “deep and sincere regret” over “the hurt and stress” caused to the entire Hayes family.

Their actions were against the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice, Ireland and the Attorney General, which the court heard have been struck out.

Proceedings against the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose role in the affair was praised for the manner in which it brought an end to the family prosecution, were discontinued.

As part of the settlement, the family also secured declarations from the court that all findings or wrongdoing made against them by the tribunal into the case, that took place between late 1984 to mid-1985, were unfounded and incorrect.

The court also made a declaration that their questioning, arrest, charge and prosecution on dates between April and October 1984 were unfounded and in breach of their constitutional rights.

The State consented to the making of the declarations.

The making of declarations, Liam Reidy SC for the family said, would vindicate their good names more than 35 years after what was an unfounded investigation and prosecution and many unfounded findings made by the tribunal.

Arising out of the settlement, the declarations are to be permanently attached to the tribunal report in the Oireachtas library, which the family say will ensure the accuracy of the public record.

A separate damage claim by Ms Hayes’s daughter, Yvonne McGuckin, was also settled, and struck out. No details of any of the settlements were revealed in open court.

Travesty

The judge, who described what happened to the family as “a travesty”, welcomed the resolution of the actions.

The judge said the settlement had brought a close to a dark chapter in Irish history, and expressed her hope that the end of the proceedings would bring some closure for the family.

The judge also asked the media to be sensitive to Ms Hayes and her family in its reporting of the proceedings.

Ms Hayes and her family were not in court when the matter came before the judge.

In a statement, Ms Hayes thanked all those who had supported the family over the past 36 years and her legal team, and she hoped and believed that after many years the “suffering and stress of this ordeal is now finally behind” them all.

She also asked that their privacy be respected and that the family be allowed to “return to our lives within our local community in peace”.

Arrested

In 1984, Ms Hayes, along with members of her family, were arrested by the gardaí following the discovery of a newborn baby with multiple stab wounds on a beach in Cahersiveen, in south Kerry, some 80km from Ms Hayes’s home in Abbeydorney in north Kerry.

The parents of that child, called baby John, have never been identified, nor has his killer.

Ms Hayes was accused by gardaí of being the mother of baby John and murdering him.

Her family were accused of concealing the birth of a child.

Following their arrest in May 1984 they claimed they were subjected to wrongful acts committed by gardaí, and 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 of natural causes and was buried on the property, counsel said.

She claimed that had a proper investigation of the matter by the gardaí taken place, she and her family would have been eliminated as persons of interest.

Their arrest and interrogation, detention and charge were improper after a blood test in May 1984 made it clear that she was not the mother of baby John, counsel said.

During the investigation she said she was accused by gardaí of having given birth to twins.

She said that claim was used for malicious purposes and as part of their continued prosecution before a State-established tribunal of inquiry, known as the Kerry babies tribunal, conducted by the then Mr Justice Kevin Lynch.

Ms Hayes and her family claim the tribunal’s final report contained numerous findings against them that were untrue, unfounded, not supported by any evidence, and were purely speculative.

Off course

Mr Reidy SC, appearing with Padraig McCartan SC instructed by solicitor Pat Mann for the family, said the tribunal had gone off course from what it was set up to do.

Counsel said it was established to find out why Ms Hayes and other members of her family had given statements to gardaí at Tralee Garda station, in separate rooms, admitting to a murder which was not scientifically possible.

Counsel said the manner in which the “organs of the State” had treated the then 24-year-old Ms Hayes amounted to “torture” as well as an intrusion into her privacy.

The tribunal had made many findings, including that Ms Hayes had assaulted her newborn son with a bath brush and had choked him to death, that were wrong, counsel said.

That particular finding was completely unsubstantiated and was made despite the fact that the former State pathologist Dr John Harbison, who performed an autopsy, was unable to determine the cause of Shane’s death, Mr Reidy added.

The tribunal also wrongly found that the Hayes family lied to the tribunal, that they were involved in an attempted cover-up regarding Shane’s death and had lied to and made false allegations against the gardaí.

During the tribunal the family said gardaí took false and unjustifiable positions by stating that none of the Hayes family were stressed or upset during their interrogations, and that the questioning was unrelated to baby John but rather Ms Hayes’s own pregnancy.

In 2018, Ms Hayes received apologies over her treatment from former taoiseach Leo Varadkar on behalf of the State, and the then acting Garda commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin.

On Friday, Mr Bradley said Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee wanted to reiterate and extend that apology to the entire Hayes family.