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Kerry Babies: gardaí retain confidence in DNA evidence but investigators face a steep challenge

Criminal lawyer says it will be a ‘huge leap’ from proving parentage to advancing criminal case against couple arrested last year

Gardaí investigating the murder of a baby in Co Kerry 40 years ago are confident that DNA tests will stand up in any criminal proceedings and prove that a couple arrested last year are the parents of the newborn child found washed up on a beach near Cahersiveen.

Sunday marks the anniversary of the discovery of Baby John’s body by a runner, Jack Griffin, at White Strand on April 14th, 1984. A postmortem by the then state pathologist, Prof John Harbison, found the baby had been stabbed 28 times and his neck had been broken.

Last year detectives from the Kerry Garda Division, assisted by officers from the Serious Crime Review Team, arrested a couple in South Kerry for questioning. They set about preparing a file on the matter for the DPP after releasing the couple without charge.

Gardaí have maintained silence to date, but this week the Garda Press Office confirmed that “the investigation into the murder of Baby John is continuing and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions in due course”.


It is understood that preparation of the file has been affected by a number of recent garda retirements but that it is now close to finalisation and will be sent shortly to the DPP, who will then decide whether anyone is to be charged in relation to the baby’s death.

The DNA results form a critical part of the file and, according to informed sources, prove the couple are the parents of the infant, who was named Baby John by local undertaker Tom Cournane, who arranged his burial at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Cahersiveen.

The couple, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s, were arrested by detectives at their home in south Kerry on March 23rd, 2023, and taken to separate Garda stations in Listowel and Castleisland in north Kerry for questioning.

Gardaí issued a statement at the time, saying they had arrested a couple “in relation to the discovery of the body of a male infant at White Strand, Cahersiveen, on April 14th, 1984 ... on suspicion of the offence of murder”, adding that they were detained under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.

Both were later released without charge following interviews.

Garda sources confirmed at the time that DNA tests taken on samples from the couple would be critical in the investigation and it is understood the tests prove conclusively that the couple were the baby’s parents.

“Forensic Science Ireland carried out an analysis on the swab samples from both suspects, and the analysis found that the chances of anyone else other than the two suspects being the parents of Baby John were so infinitesimally small as to be irrefutable,” said one source.

According to the source, the samples were taken shortly after 9pm on March 23rd, when the man and woman were being processed at Listowel and Castleisland Garda stations.

Gardaí take samples under section 13 of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database) Act 2014, which ensures they can subsequently use the sample as evidence if the investigation leads to the DPP directing that criminal charges are to be brought.

Under section 13, gardaí can take samples without the detained person’s consent, but both the man and woman gave the samples without objection. The samples were taken to Dublin by members of the Kerry Traffic Bureau.

The samples were presented at the Forensic Science Ireland laboratory at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park when the laboratory opened at 9am on March 24th, and the results were back and available to interviewing gardaí in Kerry by 1pm that day.

However, gardaí had drawn up an interview schedule for both suspects in line with the An Garda Síochána interviewing model and they did not present the results of the DNA tests to the suspects until late in both interviews, as they wanted to invite them to offer what information they could first.

One experienced investigator said: “Under the model, you give the suspects the opportunity to account for their actions and it’s only towards the end of the interview that you put your strongest evidence to them – basically you are keeping your trump card until last.”

It is believed gardaí did not go into the specific statistical probability of anyone else other than the couple being the baby’s parents, but they did inform them that DNA tests showed they were the parents, and this was witnessed by their solicitors, who were present through the interviews.

The interviews, in which the couple made no admissions, were also recorded on video, and memos of the interviews along with witness statements from various family members and friends of the two suspects will also form part of the extensive file that gardaí plan to send to the DPP.

The couple were originally identified as suspects weeks before their arrest, when detectives obtained a match between a relative of one of the suspects and a new DNA profile built up from Baby John after his exhumation from Holy Cross Cemetery on September 14th, 2021.

The couple strongly deny they are the baby’s parents.

A fresh investigation into the “Kerry babies” case began in January 2018 following a Garda apology to Joanne Hayes, a single woman from Abbeydorney in north Kerry, who had been wrongly accused in 1984 of the murder of Baby John.

Under questioning, Ms Hayes told gardaí she had given birth to a baby boy – she named him Shane – who was stillborn or died days later and was buried on the family farm in Abbeydorney around the same time as the discovery of the baby on the beach 80km away. Gardaí later claimed Ms Hayes had had given birth to twins after they found the remains on her baby on the farm. But tests showed the two babies had different blood types.

In 2020, after a court found that all findings of wrongdoing made against Ms Hayes and her family were unfounded and incorrect, the family were awarded €2.5 million in damages.

Officers from the Serious Crime Review, which was launched in January 2018, had taken voluntary samples from the 40 or so people on the Iveragh peninsula, and, after getting a match, they constructed a family tree for that person, which led them to identify the couple as possible suspects.

Gardaí had decided to obtain a new DNA sample from Baby John because the original sample taken at postmortem in the morgue at Kerry General Hospital in 1984 had become depleted due to previous tests on it.

Gardaí also wished to eliminate any possibility of cross-contamination of Baby John’s DNA amid fears from a member of the original 1984 Kerry Babies investigation team that there may have been some cross-contamination of the infant’s remains when he was being transported by car to Tralee in 1984.

Baby John’s exhumation on September 14th, 2021, was conducted by Kerry gardaí, assisted by gardaí from the Garda Technical Bureau and a forensic anthropologist. His remains were brought to the morgue at University Hospital Kerry in Tralee, where samples were taken to build up a new DNA profile.

As the 40th anniversary of Baby John’s death approached, gardaí in Kerry expressed no opinion on whether the DPP would direct any charges in the case, but one experienced criminal lawyer said investigators faced a considerable challenge to secure a direction to charge the couple.

“The science may well prove the couple are the baby’s parents,” the lawyer said, but it would still be a “huge leap” from that to proving if they were responsible for what happened to him, particularly in the absence of admissions. “So it will be interesting to see what transpires and what the DPP decides.”