Family still in the dark 26 years after son’s death after Garda refusal to release file

Denis Walsh Snr, has briefed lawyers to prepare proceedings against the State over what will be claimed were serious shortfalls in how An Garda Síochána handled the case
Family still in the dark 26 years after son’s death after Garda refusal to release file

David Raleigh

Gardaí have refused to hand over a file on the 1996 disappearance and subsequent discovery of the partial body of Denis Walsh Jnr.

His father, Denis Walsh Snr, has briefed lawyers to prepare proceedings against the State over what will be claimed were serious shortfalls in how An Garda Síochána handled the case.

In another twist in the tragic 26-year-old investigation, Denis Walsh snr spoke publicly for the first time that a letter was delivered to his home last year, which claimed his son was murdered by a man in Limerick.

Denis Walsh Snr said that he requested a copy of the Garda file through his solicitor, relating to his son’s disappearance and the subsequent discovery of his partial body on April 7th, 1996, but that gardaí replied they could not release information about his son because he was dead and so was not in a position to agree to the disclosure.

Denis Walsh Jnr went missing on March 10th, 1996. However, for 25 years his family were unaware that his unidentified partial body was discovered on Inis Mór, Co Galway 28 days later. It was held in a morgue for 18 years and eventually buried in a grave in 2014.

The remains were eventually identified in February 2022 and were exhumed by the Walsh family and laid to rest in Limerick in April last year.

Denis Walsh Snr, has briefed lawyers to prepare proceedings against the State over what will be claimed were serious shortfalls in how An Garda Síochána handled the case.
Denis Walsh Snr, has briefed lawyers to prepare proceedings against the State over what will be claimed were serious shortfalls in how An Garda Síochána handled the case.

Garda refusal

In response to Mr Walsh Snr’s request for the garda file on his dead son, gardaí stated: "As a general principle the personal data of any individual is never disclosed to a third party, in the absence of the consent of the individual concerned to its disclosure."

The letter sent from the Data Protection Unit, An Garda Síochána, said the file could not be divulged "regardless of the relationship of the requester to the person in respect of whom such data is being sought".

It continued, "any rights accruing to individuals under data protection legislation only applies to data relating to living persons and unfortunately does not apply to personal data of persons who are deceased, therefore I regret that this office is not in a position to provide you with personal data".

The Garda unit said that such requests can be considered on a "case by case basis" but gardaí would have to "ensure no potential harm arises from the inappropriate disclosure of such information" and there was "no guarantee" requests can be facilitated.

Mr Walsh Snr described the letter as "disgusting and insulting".

"I mean to say, they have treated me and my family disgracefully over the years, and now this, they can’t give me information about my son, because he is dead?"

Mr Walsh said there were "outstanding questions" about why his son’s remains were not identified sooner, "I want answers, myself and my wife were in Galway the day before his body was found there, we handed out flyers with Denis’s photo on them at Garda stations all over Galway, so why didn't any of them join up the dots."

Gardaí stated in 2021 that "foul pay was not suspected" following a post-mortem in 1996.

Garda memo

An internal garda memo dated April 11th, 2021 stated that a garda at the scene had given a statement saying that both arms and hands were attached to the torso but that due to composition "fingerprinting was not an option" and there were "no teeth present" in the partial skull.

Samples taken from the body during the autopsy and sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory were examined in July 2008, 2011, and 2017 but could not be matched, Gardai said. It’s unclear what the bodily samples were being tested against as gardaí did not take saliva swabs from Mr Walsh’s parents until February 2011 and a DNA match was not found until February 2022.

Gardaí said identification came about because of advances in DNA technology.

While one Garda at the scene stated there were two arms and two hands, another Garda at the scene stated there was "one arm".

Both gardaí stated there was a partial skull at the scene, however the "clear recollection" of a doctor who attended at the scene was that there was a "torso with no head attached". In the autopsy report it is stated that a "torso including portion of skull with skull bones" was found, and, the "hair colouring" was brown and greying.

Mr Walsh Snr said he was "shocked" when a letter delivered to his house claimed his dead son had been murdered by a man in Limerick City.

Mr Walsh said he handed in the letter to gardaí at Henry Street during the summer of 2021 and that he has not heard anything from them about it.

When asked about the letter, a Garda spokesman replied that gardaí were continuing "an active Missing Persons investigation into this case" and that gardaí do "not comment on any specific lines of enquiry".

The Garda spokesman appealed "to any person with any information into the disappearance of Denis Walsh to contact Henry Street Garda Station on 061 212 400".

At an inquest into Denis Walsh Jnr’s death, held in April 2022, the Galway West Coroner, Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin said his remains were not included in a review of DNA profiles of unidentified remains that were stored in Galway in 2011.

Dr MacLoughlin described this as "an opportunity missed to identify the remains" and he recorded an open verdict in Denis Walsh Jnr’s death, and Dr MacLoughlin noted that the 25-year delay in identifying Denis Walsh Jnr’s remains had "compounded" his family’s trauma and grief.

Part, or all, of the original Garda file into the discovery of the remains are believed to have been lost in a fire at a Garda station in Galway some years ago.

A letter sent by gardaí to the Walsh family acknowledged they had been left with "lots of justifiable questions on how it took so long to identify Denis".

Last Friday, gardaí were asked if any persons had been questioned in relation to the letter received by Denis Walsh Snr in May 2021, but they have yet to respond.

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