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Friday 2 December 2016

Shame of wrongful execution resurfaces in expenses claims

Harry Gleeson found the body of Mary 'Moll' McCarthy (Photo: Tom Gleeson)
Harry Gleeson found the body of Mary 'Moll' McCarthy (Photo: Tom Gleeson)

Echoes of a miscarriage of justice dating back nearly 75 years have surfaced in newly-released government documents.

The papers - released as part of the 1985 State Archive - relate to the case of Harry Gleeson, who was hanged after being convicted of the 1940 murder of Mary 'Moll' McCarthy in the Co Tipperary townland of Marlhill.

Mr Gleeson, an unmarried 38-year-old farmer, discovered the body of Ms McCarthy, known to have turned to prostitution as an alternative to poverty, in a field and reported his grisly find to gardai.

The victim was later found to have died from shotgun blasts.

A second shot, fired from close range, was directly at her face.

Sexual

Gleeson was declared guilty after being found to have lied by saying he had not recognised the victim of the brutal killing.

He was later executed by hanging.

But there were allegations of both the tampering of evidence and hostility on the part of the court towards the accused man.

A recent book about the affair claimed the real killer was another local man, who had the backing of a group of neighbours with IRA links.

Some were apparently motivated by the need to keep secret their sexual activities.

It was believed that people living in the area knew Gleeson could not be guilty of the crime - yet they still remained silent and allowed him to be executed.

And, crucially, earlier this year, after re-examination of the case, Gleeson - described as "the most unfortunate man in Ireland" back in the 1940s - was pardoned by the State.

However, the newly-released papers concentrate largely on wrangling between the court authorities and lawyers and expert witnesses over the payments they reckoned were due to them through their involvement in the trial.

A junior member of the defence team was up-and-coming barrister Sean MacBride, a one-time IRA chief of staff, and subsequent Minister for External Affairs.

Mr MacBride also went on to be a Nobel Peace prize laureate.

Among those to submit invoices to the Minister for Finance for the services they provided was architect and civil engineer P J Munden.

His original claim for the sum of £68 and two shillings was cut back to £63 and 18 shillings.

The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland maintained that the original bill was "not excessive".

The account submitted by Mr Munden included a £12 12 shillings fee for surveying parts of the Gleeson farm, and a total of £4 four shillings for "attending several consultations at counsel's chambers" with Sean MacBride and other members of the defence's legal team.

The architect afterwards accepted the payment on offer.

Unsuccessful

But he made it very clear through his solicitor that he was "exceedingly disappointed" that his expenses claim was being reduced.

Mr Munden was allowed a daily court attendance payment of just £4 and four shillings.

A further claim came from surgeon P J Flood.

He claimed a total of £64 and nine shillings after being subpoenaed to give evidence over a period of days.

And yet another court document reported that the sum of £200 had "been raised and was available" to finance a subsequently unsuccessful appeal against the original conviction.

But the bill of costs for the appeal added up to £244 12 shillings and six pence.

A key element in the subsequent posthumous pardon granted to Harry Gleeson was the fact that the crucial second shot fired at Moll McCarthy could not have come from the farmer's gun.

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