December 17, 2008

...And how gardai got their man

WITHIN MINUTES of Rose Callaly finding her beloved daughter Rachel lying dead in her own house, one of the biggest Garda investigations ever undertaken began.
Officers spent tens of thousands of hours trying to get enough evidence to have Joe O'Reilly charged with Rachel's murder.
But it would be almost three years before they had the satisfaction of seeing him jailed for life.
At one stage more than 70 gardai of all ranks were involved in the probe that lasted almost two years before the investigation was complete and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Officers have revealed that they:
· Held case conferences every single day for weeks after the murder
· Interviewed more than 4,000 people
· Took more than 500 witness statements
· Carried out house to house inquiries within a 10 mile radius of the murder house and
· Visited every single house and business on the 15 mile journey between the O'Reilly home and Phibsboro bus station in central Dublin, where Joe drove after the murder.

But at the end of the day, it all came down to one man and his phone: Joseph Anthony O'Reilly and the mobile he had with him when he battered his wife to death.
If he had left the mobile at work that day as he went to kill his wife, he'd probably be a free man today.
Rachel's battered body was found by her distraught mother Rose at the family home just after 2pm on Monday, October 4, 2004.
Chief Superintendent Mick Finnegan, who was in charge of the Louth Meath Garda division which covers the Naul, visited the scene around 40 minutes after Rachel's body was found.
Dozens of gardai flooded into the area as a murder investigation began.
As well as officers from Balbriggan, the nearest big station, detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation – based at Harcourt Square in central Dublin – also drove to the scene.
They are the force's elite detectives and members of that unit are sent to every single murder in the state.
The unit was headed by detective Chief Superintendent Martin Donnellan at the time – one of the force's most experienced detectives. He was subsequently promoted to Assistant Commissioner and is now retired.
Another key member of the NBCI sent to the scene was Detective Superintendent Dominic Hayes. As well as playing a key role in the O'Reilly inquiry, D/Supt Hayes also led Operation Steel, the Garda crackdown on drugs boss Marlo Hyland.
The area around the house was sealed off as forensic experts, covered in white protective clothing from head to foot, combed every inch of the property looking for even the faintest piece of evidence that would help them snare the killer.
Parts of the house had seemingly been ransacked, with clothes and other items on the floor of the kitchen – it looked like the house had been ransacked.
Gardai initially suspected that Rachel had been murdered as she disturbed a burglar. Surely, in the struggle, the killer would have left some DNA in the form of blood or even hair, at the scene?
After a few days, they'd be disappointed, however.
The murder weapon could not be found. Officers searched the entire area, but simply couldn't trace it. State pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy could only tell gardai it had been a blunt instrument.
Finding the weapon – which has still not been traced to this day – would have been a huge advance in the inquiry.
And there was worse to come.
There was no DNA evidence. But, as the investigation proceeded, detectives would later see the full significance of that.
Within hours of Rachel's murder, gardai were looking hard at Joe.
Statistics meant they simply had to examine the possibility Rachel had been murdered by her husband.
The vast majority of women who are killed in their own home – as many as eight out of 10 - are murdered by their husband, partner or boyfriend.
And gardai knew it was extremely rare for a woman to be killed in her home by a stranger, so it was logical they would want to know O'Reilly's movements on the day of the murder.
At this stage he was not a suspect, but gardai knew they had to eliminate him before they could go after anyone else.
And that was the first problem the gardai faced: O'Reilly had a strong alibi.
And by 7pm, O'Reilly was at his mother Ann's home in Dunleer, Co Louth – around 20 miles away. He was playing the devastated husband role to perfection.
Detective Superintendent Michael Hoare, Balbriggan crime sergeant Pat Marry and Garda (now Sergeant) Aaron Gormley sat down in the living room of the O'Reilly home to interview Joe.
Calmly, deliberately, O'Reilly told his first lies.
Apart from lying three times about having an affair with Nikki Pelley, O'Reilly also gave officers a false picture of where he was on the morning Rachel was murdered.
He told them he was at the Broadstone and Phibsboro bus garage in north inner city Dublin between 9am and 11.30am on the day.
And he said he was there with Derek Quearney, a 46-year-old former soldier who was his deputy at the Viacom advertising agency where they both worked.
The interview finished at 8pm. By 9pm, other officers had contacted Quearney. He backed up large parts of O'Reilly's story.
He told detectives he saw O'Reilly at around 10am in the depot, then again at 10.30am. He told the officers he left with O'Reilly to go back to Viacom at 11.00am. They got back to Viacom, in the Bluebell Industrial estate in the west of the city, at around midday. O'Reilly was in the office until after 1pm when he got a call to say Rachel hadn't picked up her two kids - which is when he headed to the Naul himself.
It was a rock solid alibi.
O'Reilly simply couldn't have done it, based on Quearney's alibi.
So, if it wasn't the husband, whodunit?
Gardai quickly focused on the possibility that it was indeed a burglary gone wrong.
The day after the murder the Louth Meath Garda search team was deployed to the area around the house in Baldarragh.
Some 500 metres from the house, on the road leading away from the property towards the Naul itself, sergeant Oliver Keegan came across something interesting.
He found a rucksack, camera bag and jewellery box from the family home dumped in a flooded culvert 500 metres from the house. The three items had been taken from the house.
The camera bag even had Rachel's name on it.
Was this the breakthrough? Perhaps the burglar had dumped the items in his panic after he killed Rachel.
Attention focused on a number of different criminals who were known to be active in the area.
In particular there was one gang from Ballymun in north Dublin, only 20 odd minutes from Rachel and Joe's house. Perhaps they were responsible for Rachel's murder?
But then disaster.
The house was forensically clean. All the fingerprints in the house could be attributed to either Joe, Rachel or Rose Callaly.
Nobody else's prints had been left behind. The only person whose blood - apart from Rachel's – was found at the scene was Thomas Lowe, the victim's natural brother.
In August of that year, he had been putting decking down for Rachel and Joe and had cut his hand. He went to the utility room to get a plaster and his blood dripped on the floor and washing machine. He went to clean it up, but Rachel told him she would do it.
However, she left a small smear of his blood on the washing machine. But gardai quickly ruled Mr Lowe out of the investigation.
Nor was there any forensic yield from the evidence found in the culvert.
But an absence of forensic evidence can quickly become a positive.
How, gardai, wondered, could such a violent incident take place and the killer's prints or DNA weren't at the scene?
What if the killers prints were there? What if O'Reilly was the killer? There was a perfect explanation for his prints being there, he lived there after all.
Gardai knew that if no-one else's DNA was found at the scene then there was a good chance O'Reilly was the killer.
"It stands to reason," one officer said.
"Nobody else's DNA or trace evidence was found at the scene. That sounds bad but, if you think about, the absence of someone else's prints points strongly to it being one of the people whose prints we lifted from the scene – Joe."
On October 8, just four days after the murder, Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Callinan got involved in the investigation.
He was head of Garda Crime and Security, the intelligence arm of the force.
It's normally tasked with tracking down terrorists and its operatives played a key role in destroying the Real IRA's campaign in the late 19990s.
But it is also the department of the Garda that handles telephone evidence.
Only the head of Crime and Security can request mobile phone companies to hand over mobile phone records of people of interest.
On that day, the now deputy garda commissioner formally asked for the records of O'Reilly, his lover Nikki Pelley and his alibi Derek Quearney.
It was around three weeks before gardai would get the results.
In the meantime, normal policing work continued.
Dozens of officers were involved in the probe every day, based in the incident room at Balbriggan Garda station – the very heart of the investigation.
As well as carrying out detailed searches of the area around the house and a forensic trawl inside the property, gardai also targeted the wider district around the hall.
Officers carried out door to door inquiries in the area, looking for witnesses.
The area of those inquiries gradually grew and grew until, several months after the murder, they had canvassed every house and property within a 10 mile radius of the O'Reilly home.
It was good, old fashioned police legwork, but it yielded few rewards.
Nobody had seen anything. No suspects were sighted. There was nothing out of the ordinary.
But then there was a breakthrough.
Just 500 metres from the O'Reilly home is the entrance to Murphy's Quarry. It is a huge, sprawling site, borne out by the fact that a mobile phone mast on the quarry was actually 850 metres from Joe and Rachel's house.
Like many businesses, the Murphy Quarry had a CCTV system installed. There were four cameras in the complex, with one of them pointing at the entrance, partially covering the road that leads to the O'Reilly home.
At the end of October, Gardai requested CCTV footage from the morning Rachel was killed.
When they looked at it, they saw a dark coloured car – to the non expert it was of poor quality – heading towards the O'Reilly home at 09.10, at a time Joe said he was in Broadstone. The car went the other way at 09.59.
They also collected images of a similar car heading north and passing by the Europrise building at Blake's Cross in north Dublin, around seven miles from Joe and Rachel's home at 08.55. It was caught on camera coming back towards Dublin at the same site at 10.07.
Gardai couldn't say what the vehicle was, but they knew someone who just might.
They collated all the images and sent them to UK company Kalagate, world renowned experts on analysing CCTV images.
In the meantime, gardai got initial results from the mobile phone companies in relation to the mobiles of O'Reilly, Quearney and Pelley.
The information, handed over at the end of October, was simply dynamite.
It led to Joe O'Reilly becoming the prime suspect for his wife's murder.
The data clearly showed Quearney's contention that he met O'Reilly at close to 10am at Phibsboro was wrong.
The evidence showed that O'Reilly's phone bounced off the mast at Murphy's Quarry – some 850 metres from Joe's house – at 09.25 and 09.52.
Yet O'Reilly, five hours after Rachel's body was found, had told gardai he had been in Phibsboro at that time. And Quearney backed that that up.
They knew O'Reilly was lying and they believed Quearney had made a mistake.
Once the phone evidence came back, events moved quickly.
On November 16, just over a month after the killing, Pelley and Quearney were arrested.
They were taken to Balbriggan Garda station. They weren't suspected of killing Rachel, but were being held on suspicion of withholding information. They were later released without charge.
But the process yielded positive results. Quearney admitted that he could be wrong about what time he saw O'Reilly at Phibsboro.
Armed with that, gardai pounced on the main suspect.
Just after 10.20 am O'Reilly was arrested by detective sergeant Pat Marry at the family home.
He was whisked to Drogheda Garda station where he was held for around 12 hours.
He occasionally refused to answer questions, as was his right. At other times, he kept saying: "I didn't kill Rachel."
But there was one seemingly innocuous question he did answer.
NBCI detective sergeant Sean Grennan asked him if he had his mobile with him all day on the day of the murder.
O'Reilly replied: "Yes. I think so."
It was enough for gardai to link him to the phone. If the phone was in the Naul at the time of the murder – so was he.
There was even better news towards the end of 2005 when Andrew Laws gave his report.
Although he said he could not be certain, he could say that there was either moderate or strong possibilities that the cars on the CCTV at Murphy's Quarry and at Blake's Cross could be O'Reilly's, or at least the same make and model.
The gardai had no murder weapon and no confession, but they were now building up a strong circumstantial case to show O'Reilly's guilt,
The phone evidence placed him in the Naul, the CCTV evidence seemed to back that up.
Coupled with emails he sent to his sister Ann in which O'Reilly spoke of his hatred for Rachel and now he believed the marriage was over, but was worried about his wife keeping their two kids, the gardai believed they had a strong case against him.
That was strengthened even more when experts working for 02 showed conclusively that O'Reilly's phone could not have been anywhere else on the day of the murder.
In June, 2006, Garda superintendent Tom Gallagher sent the massive file to the Director Of Public Prosecutions with the recommendation that, based on circumstantial evidence, O'Reilly be charged with murder.
Four months later on October 19, 2006, the DPP agreed.
He ordered O'Reilly's arrest.
The following day, three years and 16 days since she died, Joe O'Reilly was charged with her murder.
And in June 2007, after a four week trial, a jury agreed with Tom Gallagher and the DPP – its 11 members said, based on the evidence, O'Reilly was guilty.
Mick Finnegan, now retired, couldn't hide his delight as O'Reilly was taken down.
"I was always confident if we could get a charge and get him into court, we could get a conviction,” he said.

1 comment:

  1. Well perhaps the blood of the victims brother on the washing machine should not have been so easily dismissed - there was dna! why not have him checked out thoroughly.