27 March 2006

Top death probe detective admits systematic abuse of sisters

BN.ie

27/03/2006 - 16:10:00

A once highly regarded detective garda has admitted systematically and severely abusing two innocent sisters as they were interrogated over the death of Donegal cattle dealer Richie Barron, it emerged today.

In a shocking statement to the Morris Tribunal turning years of denials on their head, Detective Sergeant John White revealed he lied about the atrocious treatment of Katrina Brolly and Roisin McConnell in Letterkenny Garda Station.

The officer, who is currently suspended from the force, said the sisters were utterly blameless in relation to the Barron death.

Det Sgt White revealed he was drafted in to make the women crack under pressure in the hope that they would identify Mr Barron’s killers.

“It was made clear to me that my role was to break the person being interviewed in order to corroborate the suspicions of An Garda Siochana,” he said in a statement.

In three separate inquiries over the last eight years, Det Sgt White has denied claims that he mistreated and harassed the sisters.

But in a dramatic departure from the cover-up and deceit witnessed at the tribunal, Det Sgt White decided to come clean.

His shock move came after his colleague Garda John Dooley last week outlined the extent of abuse faced by the sisters, pinning much of the blame on Det Sgt White.

The detective sat motionless in the public gallery, only feet from Mrs Brolly, as tribunal barrister Paul McDermott SC read the lengthy admission of guilt into the record.

He outlined a catalogue of abuse dished out to the two sisters while in custody.

:: Graphically shocking pictures of Mr Barron’s post mortem were shown to the women.

:: They were told Frank McBrearty Jnr had murdered Mr Barron.

:: A chair was tossed around an interview room.

:: Foul, abusive and insulting language was used.

:: Lights were flicked off and on.

:: Mrs McConnell was warned to tell the truth and save herself years in prison.

:: She was told her husband Mark was having an affair.

:: And she was warned her kids could be taken from her and put into care.

Det Sgt White said in the statement: “I acknowledge that my conduct in these matters falls far short of an acceptable standard.

“I acknowledge that their [Mrs McConnell and Mrs Brolly] treatment was in breach of custody regulations and their human rights.

“I fully acknowledge that each of them is blameless in relation to the investigation and the treatment of them by me is inexcusable.”

Det Sgt White, who served in top Dublin detective units in the early 1980s, also confirmed Letterkenny Garda Station, where the interrogations took place, had been bugged.

He revealed he was instructed to be aggressive when interrogating the pair. And he admitted that the tough interview methods used by him, and other officers, have been employed time and time again during his career.

He said two high ranking officers, Detective Superintendent Joe Shelley and Inspector John McGinley, were convinced Frank McBrearty Jnr and Mark McConnell, Roisin’s husband, were guilty of murder.

He said the two sisters had been identified as accomplices in the Barron death.

Det Sgt White said he trusted the senior officers’ judgement.

“I knew Dt Supt Shelley very well having served with him in the murder squad and I was aware that he was extremely experienced and I trusted his judgment,” he said.

“Strident and aggressive [interviewing techniques] were not used, it was quite clear that results were being expected if not demanded. This was made quite clear to me by Det Supt Shelley.”

He admitted he called the women lying bitches.

“I may have used the words lying bitch, this would not be unusual language in an interview situation with an uncooperative and obstructive witness,” he said.

“I wish to state that in relation to murder and serious crime investigations the method employed with Roisin McConnell was similar to that used on other occasions by myself and other interviewers over the years.”

He admitted asking Roisin to pray to her father as accusations were made over the death of Mr Barron.

“I understood that I was to adopt a hard line in relation to the interrogation. In retrospect, I acknowledge that I approached the task believing Roisin McConnell to be guilty,” he admitted.

“I now accept that this was unfair and improper.”

His statement continued: “No interview of any prisoner or any witness is carried out in a ’tea party’ atmosphere as the purpose is to elicit information from persons who are either reluctant, uncooperative or simply lying.

“My job was to ascertain answers to the questions put and explanations as to the conflicts in their answers.”

Det Sgt White , however, rejected claims that he spat in the women’s faces, that he broke wind in front of them, that he assaulted them or called Roisin McConnell “Satan”.

Paul McDermott SC, barrister for the tribunal, read the statement into the record.

He said: “The statement made by Detective Sergeant White is perhaps welcome but if it is true a late departure from the lies which have been engaged in in the past.

“The tribunal at this stage can only continue to exercise the patience which has been perhaps tested over the last number of years in this regard.”

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