Friday 28 October 2016

Grangegorman murders: 'I can never forget what I saw in the house of horrors'

Retired Detective sergeant Alan Bailey saw firsthandthe carnage wrought by Mark Nash
Retired Detective sergeant Alan Bailey saw firsthandthe carnage wrought by Mark Nash
Mark Nash

The sight that greeted Alan Bailey when he arrived at the scene of the notorious Grangegorman murders will remain etched in his memory for as long as he lives.

The now-retired detective sergeant has written a book about the events surrounding the horrific murders of Sylvia Sheils (60) and Mary Callinan (61). Their bodies were discovered in their sheltered accommodation in Dublin on the morning of March 7, 1997.

Bailey accompanied the then-Chief State Pathologist Professor John Harbison as he looked at the bodies that terrible morning.

He recalled that Professor Harbison referred to the scene as "carnage".

In his book, The Grangegorman Murder, Bailey describes in some detail the various injuries noted on the bodies of the victims during the post-mortem examinations. These included multiple stab wounds and genital mutilation.

The majority of the injuries had been inflicted after death.

Bailey does write that some readers may find the details of the post-mortem too graphic, but said they were not included to shock or upset anyone.

Speaking to the Herald, the 64-year-old said that he was conflicted about including the graphic detail.


"But I felt that to show the nature of the man who had committed the crime - his character, the ferocity of the attack - certainly says a lot about him.

"That is the point I was trying to get across. It is very graphic and very upsetting, and it is something that still sticks with me - as it does anyone else that was at the scene," he said.

"We were offered counselling by the hospital authorities," Bailey said, but he didn't take up the offer.

"Certainly, we could have all done with it. There is no doubt, looking back," he said.

"People say to me: 'Is it the worst you ever saw?' I say, all murder scenes are bad, and the day they are not is the day you are in trouble."

But he admitted it "rocked him" to hear Professor Harbison - who had visited multiple murder scenes during his career - say that that day was outside his experience.

The book explores how 24-year-old drug addict Dean Lyons - who admitted the killings - was charged with the murder of Mary Callinan.

That charge would subsequently be struck out. Lyons died in England in 2000.

In his book, Bailey details the progression of the garda enquiry that led to Lyons being imprisoned for the crime he did not commit.

To his credit, Mr Bailey had always insisted that Lyons was innocent and had voiced his concerns.

It wasn't until April this year that the real killer, Mark Nash, was found guilty of the murder of the two women in Grangegorman and received a life sentence.

Since October 1998 Nash has been serving a double life sentence for murdering two people in Ballintober in Roscommon and leaving a woman seriously injured following an attack in 1997.

"I was giving evidence in the witness box in the trial this year, and I realised that the day I was giving my evidence was the 18th anniversary of the day the bodies were discovered," said Mr Bailey, who originally hails from New Ross in Co Wexford.


He said in his book that "Sylvia, Mary and Dean can now rest easily. In their cases, justice delayed was not justice denied".

Mr Bailey retired from the gardai in 2011.

At that point he was heading up Operation Trace, which was set up to investigate high-profile cases of missing women, including American student Annie McCarrick (26). She disappeared in 1993.

"My heart, to this day, goes out to the families, that they still have no truth.

"There are people out there who know, or could at least spare the families what they are going through at the moment," said Bailey, who spent 14 years with that unit.

Mr Bailey joined the gardai in 1972, and retired at 60.

"I retired at a minute to 12 before my 60th birthday, so I hung in there for the long haul and I enjoyed every minute of it.

"It's a fantastic job, very interesting job. A job I got a lot from - and I hope gave a lot to," said the father-of-three.

Mr Bailey said the abuse of prescription drugs is a big problem in the city.

"There is a huge market for prescription drugs," he said.

Nowadays, he has a new role in the inner city, working in the Capuchin Day Centre on Bow Street.

It provides a vital lifeline for people in need of food aid in the city. Its numbers have swelled in the last few years since the recession hit.

"I started volunteering here in the 70s," Mr Bailey said.

"I was a local garda in the Bridewell and I got to know Fr Kevin [Crowley]," he said.

When he retired, he began working full-time as human resource manager.

"In the last four years, the number of people attending the centre has tripled.

"We are now doing between 200 and 300 breakfasts, and 500 to 600 lunches on a daily basis.

"We see an awful lot of families. What we are getting is people who are staying in hotels, they are given accommodation with nothing to eat and nowhere to cook.

"One of the mothers was telling me one day that the worst thing you can have is your child crying with the hunger and the smell of food wafting up from the dining room in your hotel.

"You can just imagine," he said.

"We have started giving the children a packed lunch to take away with them now, just so they have something," he said.


The number of packed lunches that are prepared depends on the number of children on a given day, he said.

"We make them up as the need arises," he said.

"Lunch is a full meal. For instance, it can be a soup starter, a fish main course with vegetables and tea and coffee," he said.

He said that they recently helped a family with three kids under five who were sleeping rough in a park.

The family could afford to pay rent, but not a deposit, Mr Bailey said.

It is problem that they are seeing a lot.

"We are getting an awful lot of what is referred to as the 'food poor'.

"This is people who maybe have a choice of buying dinner or paying their mortgage.

"They have a house with an empty fridge. They may have a house with a mortgage, but they can't afford to feed themselves.

"These are people who are falling between different gaps," he said.

Bailey said that he finds the work with the Capuchin centre very rewarding.

The Grangegorman Murders, published by Gill & Macmillan, is on sale now

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