Minister needs to act in disturbing case of Dean Lyons


An apology alone cannot dispel fears that Dean Lyons was stitched up by gardaí, writes Pat Rabbitte.

The story of Dean Lyons is not just the sad case of a strung-out, semi-literate heroin addict, who admitted to committing terrible crimes when he did not know what he was doing or saying. It is not just about an unequal confrontation between the forces of the State and one of its more inadequate citizens.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the story suggests that within the ranks of the Garda Síochána a deliberate decision was made to frame a suspect who turned out to be innocent. And it points to a Minister for Justice whose uncharacteristic indecisiveness on this issue means that the true facts will remain covered up.

The Grangegorman murders were savage and brutal. Dean Lyons was wrongfully charged with them. The Garda Commissioner, after a "comprehensive probative inquiry", is now satisfied he had no participation in those murders and publishes a notice in the papers apologising for any embarrassment caused.

The apology is to the Lyons family. Dean Lyons died in Manchester four years ago from a heroin overdose. The two murders remain unsolved and we have no explanation of how it happened that Dean Lyons confessed to two murders he did not commit. And no intention from the Minister that we will ever find out.

We know this much. Sylvia Sheils and Mary Callinan were murdered as they lay in their beds in a sheltered housing scheme on the grounds of Grangegorman hospital in March 1997. Dean Lyons was arrested in the months after the murders and, though he confessed to them, it transpired later that he could not have committed them. The charges against him were eventually withdrawn and he was released from custody in 1998.

He was living the life of a homeless heroin addict in July 1997 when he was arrested for questioning about the murders. He was questioned by detective gardaí in a video and tape-recording suite. The transcript of the taped interview showed him as confused and incoherent. In the interview, he admitted to every charge put to him. His parents visited him and said he appeared completely disoriented and was swaying and slurring his words when they met him.

After his parents left, he was questioned again. As a result he made another, written, statement. But when this statement was made, there was no video or audio taping. The statement contains a chronologically correct narrative about the murders. There are also accurate descriptions of the interior of the house and the actions of the murderer inside. How he broke a window to get into the house. Where he stacked the broken glass. The layout of the staircase and bedrooms of the house. What the victims looked like. What they were wearing. How they died.

Dean Lyons, the man the Garda Síochána now accept had no part in these murders, was able to describe in his statement with chilling accuracy - and in clear grammatical English - how he emptied the kitchen drawers and took all the long knives and a carving fork to mutilate his victims. This information was not published in the media at the time of the murders.

On the basis of this "confession", he was charged with the murders. If the trial had proceeded, it would have been impossible for him to withdraw a confession that contained such accurate and unpublished detail. Only the real killer could have known it. And, of course, the investigating gardaí.

All the more embarrassing (to use the Garda Commissioner's word), when a second man, Mark Nash, arrested in connection with a separate double murder in Roscommon, confessed to the Grangegorman murders - again with accurate and unpublished detail.

So Dean Lyons's trial did not proceed. He remained in custody for over eight months, his case adjourned from date to date, while the authorities worked out what to do. Eventually he was released without explanation and he left the country. To prosecute Mark Nash for the Grangegorman murders would have opened up a can of worms so, effectively, the case was dropped entirely.

There was an internal Garda inquiry but its findings have been kept secret. The Garda spokesman said a lot had been learnt following this inquiry. The lessons learnt related to investigation and interviewing techniques, he said. To publish the report, however, "would only be of assistance to the criminal fraternity".

This is Kafkaesque. Police interview a suspect. They have information about a crime which the suspect does not have, because the suspect, as it turns out, is innocent. That information nonetheless finds its way into the suspect's statement. But we cannot be told by what "interview technique" this happened because that would assist the criminal fraternity.

A simple apology alone cannot dispel the average, law-abiding citizen's fear that Dean Lyons was stitched up, for whatever reason, by members of the Garda Síochána.

We heard a lot recently about the culture of corporate silence that can envelop a close-knit community, whether it be on the Short Strand or outside the Burlington Hotel. But when a deafening silence descends on the forces of law and order of the State, who are pledged to render good and true service and obedience "without favour or affection, fear, malice, or ill-will", it is time for the Minister for Justice to act. And act decisively.

Pat Rabbitte TD is leader of the Labour Party