11 June 2005

Daily Ireland

They knew he was innocent three years ago

By Conor McMorrow

The Irish justice department knew for almost three years that Frank McBrearty Jr and Mark McConnell were no longer suspects in Garda investigations into the death of Donegal cattle dealer Richie Barron.

Daily Ireland has obtained evidence that the department was aware in late 2002 that the focus of the Garda investigation into Mr Barron’s death was on a hit-and-run incident and not on a murder.
Justice Frederick Morris officially declared last week that Mr McBrearty and his cousin Mark McConnell had been framed for the supposed murder of Mr Barron in 1996.
Earlier this week, Daily Ireland revealed that Garda commissioner Noel Conroy had stated in a letter to Mr McBrearty last year that Mr Barron’s death had been redesignated in February 2002 from a murder investigation to a hit-and-run.
Daily Ireland can now disclose that justice minister Michael McDowell knew that his department was aware of the redesignation of Mr Barron’s death as far back as November 2002. Mr McDowell made this admission in a response to a Dáil question from Labour Party TD Joe Costello in December last year.
However, Mr McBrearty and Mr McConnell were not told in 2002 that they were no longer suspects in Mr Barron’s death.
Mr McBrearty said last night: “The information that Richie Barron’s death was redesignated was not given to the Morris tribunal until I got it out of the Garda commissioner.
“The Garda commissioner at the time [Pat Byrne] and the justice minister prolonged my family’s agony that we were guilty.
“Minister McDowell has to go or, if he does not resign, he has to explain who is responsible for this and who is accountable for it.”
Details of the redesignation were never made available to the coroner’s inquest into Mr Barron’s death.
A Dáil debate will take place next Wednesday on the findings of the Morris tribunal.
Several opposition TDs are to raise the question of whether or not Mr McDowell was aware of the redesignation of Richie Barron’s death at the time the tribunal was set up.
Nobody was availbale for comment in the Department of Justice or the Garda press office yesterday.
In his reply to Mr Costello’s Dáil question, Mr McDowell said Garda commissioner Noel Conroy had written to Mr McBrearty on November 19 last year, telling him that the redesignation had been changed on the Garda computer on November 13, 2002.
However, in the letter from Mr Conroy to Mr McBrearty, obtained by Daily Ireland, the commissioner states that the redesignation took place on February 13, 2002 — the month before the Morris tribunal was set up.
Nobody was available for comment in the Department of Justice or the Garda press office yesterday.
In his reply to Mr Costello’s Dáil question, Mr McDowell said Garda commissioner Noel Conroy had written to Mr McBrearty on November 19 last year.
The commissioner told Mr McBrearty that the redesignation had been changed on the Garda computer on November 13, 2002.
However, in the letter from Mr Conroy to Mr McBrearty, obtained by Daily Ireland, the commissioner states that the redesignation took place on February 13, 2002 — the month before the Morris tribunal was set up.






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