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Clare family reject ‘cold case’ plan and call for public inquiry

A SIXMILEBRIDGE family has rejected a proposed Garda cold case review concerning the death of a 23-year-old banqueting manager, writes Dan Danaher.

Former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald appointed retired District Court judge Patrick Clyne to lead an inquiry into the Garda investigation and disciplinary inquiries that took place following the death of Patrick Nugent (23) Feenagh, Sixmilebridge at the end of a 40th wedding anniversary party in the early hours of February 11, 1984.

The death of Mr Nugent, Feenagh, Sixmilebridge, was one of the 320 cases examined by the Independent Review Mechanism set up by Minister Fitzgerald, following a complaint made by the family relating to alleged Garda misconduct in June 2014.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has confirmed the Garda Commissioner has instructed that a fresh investigation be undertaken into the matters which Judge Clyne determined required further investigation following consideration of his final report.

“This is to be treated as a cold case and given to a fresh team to fully investigate. In light of the Commissioner’s decision, I do not propose to publish Judge Patrick Clyne’s report at this time to ensure that we do not potentially prejudice the Garda investigation which the Commissioner has now said is underway.”

A spokeswoman for the Nugent family recalled efforts by the family to secure a cold case review eight years ago which wasn’t granted and GSOC also turned down their request for a review.

She stressed a partial investigation into matters which Judge Clyne determined required further investigation wasn’t good enough.

“You can’t pick and choose what you want to investigate. There can’t just be a partial investigation of this issue. They can’t be allowed to just investigate parts of this. We are looking for a public inquiry or an independent investigation by an outside police agency. We can’t have the Gardaí investigating the Gardaí. This has been the whole problem since 1984. We are looking for a full Commission of Investigation like what Maurice McCabe got so that people can be brought in and questioned. There has to be an independent review, we can’t go back to the Gardaí again.”

She said the Garda Commissioner has not been in contact about any terms of reference for this proposed cold case review and once again the family feel that no one is properly engaging with them.

In a letter issued on behalf of the family, KRW Law LLP (KRW) argued that the Gardaí cannot be appointed to assume this fresh investigation in view of real independence issues as well as perception of a lack of independence arising from this decision.

“The family consider they have reverted back to 1984, the year of the killing of Patrick Nugent,” the letter stated.

KRW has requested an immediate review of the decision-making processes engaged in this case. As a preliminary and before seeking a meeting with the Minister to discuss these issues of concern the firm would like to receive a concession that she is amenable to additional representation on the request for a different mode of independent investigation.

KRW outlined the Nugent family have always made the case that the investigation into the death of Patrick Nugent was inadequate, flawed and not in compliance with the required standards of investigation.

This includes the alleged omissions of evidence and information from the files submitted by Gardaí to the DPP, while the Defence and trial of William Ryan were not furnished with full Disclosure by the prosecution.

The late Superintendent John Courtney who was involved in the investigation was profiled in the recent RTE documentary series, ‘Crimes and Confessions’ concerning miscarriage of justice cases including the Una Lynksey case, the Sallins Train Robbery case and the Kerry Babies case.

“The realisation that Courtney was cited as having been involved in at least one or other of these notorious investigations served to compound suspicions about the integrity and credibility of the original criminal investigation.

“Questions are now raised about the work of Courtney through the prism of his involvement in those other miscarriage of justice cases. There is a clear inference that similar dubious policing methods permeated his approach to the investigation to Patrick Nugent’s murder. That has served to retraumatise and create anxiety for the next-of-kin.

In May 2014, the family wrote to Detective Superintendent Christopher Mangan of the Cold Case Team.

Martin and John Nugent of Feenagh, Sixmilebridge at the grave of their brother Patrick Nugent who died in Bunratty Folk Park in February 1984. Photograph by John Kelly.

He had sought production of the investigation file and wanted to meet with the next-of-kin prior to making a decision on whether or not to open a cold case investigation.

No meeting ever took place and by October 2014 the family were informed by a newly appointed officer, Detective Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan that because the case was deemed included within the IRM then the need for a serious crime review investigation became redundant.

“On reflection that may have been a flawed strategic approach,” the letter outlined.

The family lodged a complaint with GSOC in October 2015. In January 2016 they were advised the said complaint was inadmissible on the grounds that it was out of time because it required new information in order to have it deemed within the relevant time limit.

That decision was at odds with the subsequent decision of Judge Clyne when he recommended a cold case investigation into certain matters.

In retrospect the family now query the apparent inconsistency in approach.

“The family are deeply concerned that a piecemeal approach to a new investigation has been directed by the minster. It is inequitable, arbitrary and a breach of their Article 2 ECHR rights to have an investigation with such an approach.

“We say it is logistically impossible to have a partial investigation if such approach is to be undertaken then it is doomed to failure because it will necessarily prevent access to the entirety of the investigative product produced to date.

“The out-workings of this falls way short of the task originally presented to the cold case team as per the letter from Detective Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan dated 28/10/2014 refers:

“Assist the Senior investigating officer in the investigation of the case by identifying any new and potential investigative opportunities. Responsibility for the investigation of a case resides with the local Superintendent.”

“The suspicions that this “fresh investigation” is fundamentally flawed from the outset are compounded by the complete lack of any communication from the Gardaí Commissioner. There is a repetition of the systemic communication deficiencies, which existed in all previous Gardaí engagement.

“One would have expected at a minimum to receive some form of communication about draft Terms of Reference. None have been forthcoming.

“The current proposal of sending the new investigation back to Gardaí is hopelessly compromised.

“The family have no confidence in any new investigation which reverts back to Gardaí. The original section 42 inquiry was an inquiry into the Garda investigation.

“Issues were identified in that inquiry process have resulted in the eventual decision to commence a fresh investigation albeit on a piecemeal basis,” the letter outlined.

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