|9. SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS|
1. The Families’ Request for Information
The families complained that there had been three separate enquiries into the circumstances of Kevin’s death – a Military Police Investigation, an Irish Contingent Board of Enquiry and a United Nations Headquarters board of Enquiry, yet they had not been given a copy of any of these reports.
The information which they had been given was in a summarised format and had left many questions unanswered.
They had raised many issues in correspondence over the years, but the replies received were vague and inadequate.
Following my review I formed the following conclusions:
· The family had not been given a copy of any of the Reports of the Enquiries carried out. Neither were they permitted to participate in or be represented at any level of these enquiries.
· The information which they were given following the Irish Contingent Board of Enquiry was in summary form, and could not be regarded as a reasonable response to the families request for information as to the circumstances of Kevin’s death.
· The information given following the U.N. Headquarters Board of Enquiry added virtually nothing to the information given following the Irish Contingent Board of Enquiry.
· The Military Police Investigation was the only investigation which examined the circumstances of Kevin’s death. The Investigating Officer raised serious concerns about his own investigation which were not properly addressed. As a consequence his investigation remains incomplete. In my view it does not constitute an effective investigation.
· Because of their reliance on the Military Police Investigation, neither the Irish Contingent Board of Enquiry or the UN Headquarters Board of Enquiry can be regarded as effective investigations.
· The three Investigations / Enquiries were completed by the 9th February 1999. Despite the families repeated requests for information over the years, no further investigation of the circumstances of Kevin’s death was undertaken since that date.
. In my view there has been no serious effort made by the Department of Defence or the Defence Forces to satisfy the reasonable requests of the Barrett family as to the full facts and circumstances of Kevin’s death.
I recommend that the following areas be addressed as a matter of urgency:
· The concerns expressed by Sgt. O’ Neill in his Report should be addressed, and brought to a satisfactory conclusion;
· Consideration should be given to the initiation of a detailed review of the circumstances of the incident itself;
· The possibility of the establishment of a Court of Enquiry under the revised Regulations should be considered;
· Consideration should be given to the involvement of the Garda Siochana, even at this late stage. The Garda might be requested initially if they have jurisdiction in this matter and if so what the likelihood was of a successful investigation.
· Whatever courses of action are decided on it is extremely important that the families be kept informed of all developments, and participate to the greatest extent possible.
I carried out an extensive review of the correspondence between the Barrett families and the Department / Defence Forces. At the centre of all this correspondence was the very legitimate request by the Barrett family for details and circumstances of Kevin’s death. In my view the limited responses of both the Department and the Defence Forces were not sufficient to satisfy the families’ requests for full and frank disclosure of all the fact.
2. The Repatriation of Private Barrett’s Remains
The following is a brief summary of the families’ grievances
· The delay in returning Kevin’s remains to this country was excessive. It was extremely important to the family to receive and see Kevin at the earliest possible opportunity.
· There had been delay in conveying Kevin’s remains from Sligo Airport to Finner Camp.
Following my review I concluded the following:
· I am satisfied that the Defence Forces did everything possible to expedite the repatriation of Kevin’s remains to this country, and that the delays which had arisen were due to circumstances outside their control.
· In my view the delay which had arisen in conveying Kevin’s remains from Sligo Airport was not excessive. Indeed but for the foresight of the local Unit, and the detailed contingency plans which they had in place, I am in no doubt but that the delay could have been far greater.
The family complained in the strongest possible terms regarding the condition of Kevin’s body when it was received in this country. Mr. McElwee, the undertaker retained to deal with Kevin’s funeral had given information to Mrs. Sinéad Douglas as to the state of the remains when he first saw them at Sligo Airport. He subsequently made a deposition to the Coroners Inquest which set this out in graphic detail. The family had been devastated by this.
Following my review I reached the following conclusions:
· Kevin’s remains were in a totally unacceptable and shocking condition when they were received in this country.
· In my view the personnel from the local Unit went to considerable lengths to ensure that Private Barrett’s remains were treated with utmost respect and dignity upon arrival in Ireland, and that every effort had been made to avoid adding to the distress of his anguished family.
· While I was satisfied that everything possible had been done by personnel from the local Unit, I was however concerned at the condition in which Kevin’s body had arrived in this country.
· I ascertained that the matter had been raised with UNIFIL who were urged to make a complaint to the Greenberg Institute in relation to this incident. The possibility of using a location other than the Greenberg Institute for autopsies in the future was also considered, but it had to be concluded that this was not possible at the time.
· In my view the most effective influence which can be brought to bear on the practices and procedure at autopsies is through the attending Medical officer. I recommend that the role and responsibility of the attending Medical Officer at an autopsy should be clearly defined in writing. It should be the responsibility of the medical Officer to certify that the practices applied in each individual case are of an acceptable standard.
3. The Pre and Post Funeral Liaison Arrangements
The following is a brief summary of the families’ grievances
· Mrs. Helen Barrett complained that when she was first informed of her son Kevin’s tragic death she was given very little information, and the limited information she was given was seriously incorrect and misleading.
· It has been accepted that the information provided to Mrs Barrett in the immediate aftermath of her son’s death was inaccurate. I am satisfied, however, that the information relayed by Lt. Col O’ Carroll and Fr. Ward was the information given to them through official channels, and that there was no intention to suppress information or mislead in any way. It simply was not open to them to delay notifying the family until more information became available.
The importance of giving families as much information as possible when notifying them of the death of a loved one cannot be overstated. Additional information coming to hand at later stages should be communicated immediately to the family, however small and inconsequential that information might appear. Where enquiries are ongoing, the family should be informed on a regular basis of progress to date. Following the appointment of a Liaison Officer, all information should be relayed directly to him, and not through routine official Defence Force channels.
· The family complained that in the period leading up to Kevin funeral and in the weeks that followed, they were given different and, at times, conflicting versions of the circumstances of Kevin’s death. Mrs. Helen Barrett, Mrs. Jean Barrett each gave examples of these.
Following my review I reached the following conclusions and recommendations:
· The Barrett Families recollections of the conversations and discussions with personnel from the local Unit are significantly different from those of Capt. McGeehan and Fr. Ward. This of itself is not unusual, and the passage of almost seven years has not helped. All of the family members were in a distraught condition, made even worse by the fact that no one in authority would give them any information of the circumstances of Kevin’s death. The Liaison Officer had no information to relay, and found on many occasions that the family had more information than he had. In response to such situations, it is easy to imagine that some speculation was inevitable.
· I am satisfied however that there was no intention to withhold information or to mislead the family in any way. The problem arose from the fact that the local Unit personnel were not informed of progress of the various enquiries and they had no information to pass to the family.
· I have reviewed the new “Guidelines for Members of the Defence Forces in dealing with Bereaved families”. They represent a significant advancement on the arrangements which applied in 1999. However in situations similar to those in which the Barrett family found itself on the death of Kevin, it will still be essential that an effective investigation is carried out which allows for maximum participation by the family at the earliest opportunity.
· Mrs. Sinéad Douglas, Kevin’s sister said that she had been informed by the Liaison Officer that there would be an Inquest into Kevin’s death. It was very distressing therefore that the Defence Forces had not taken any initiatives about this, and it was left to the family to pursue the matter directly with the Coroner.
Once again there are two different versions of the same incident. Both Mrs. Douglas and Capt. Mc Geehan were positive of their respective positions. However I am satisfied that there was no intention by Capt. McGeehan to mislead Mrs. Douglas in any way. The most likely explanation is that Capt. McGeehan understood that they were talking about an Enquiry and Mrs. Douglas understood they were talking about an Inquest and a genuine misunderstanding arose.
· So as to ensure clarity and accuracy in respect of the information that it is provided to bereaved families, it is strongly recommended again that the guidelines of 2001 be implemented rigorously. It is also recommended that regular training be provided to Liaison Officers in this regard.
4. The Coroners Inquest
Because they had not been given a satisfactory explanation of the circumstances surrounding Kevin’s death, the parents and family felt that the only option open to them was to seek a Coroners Inquest. They said that the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces had not given them any support or encouragement in that regard. They complained in particular of the following:
· There had been several postponements of the Inquest because of delays by the Defence Forces in making Military witnesses available;
· Expert witnesses from Israel were not available at the Inquest;
· Some vital exhibits were not made available at all;
· Some key witnesses seemed to change their accounts of the events surrounding Kevin’s death;
· Photographs which the families solicitors had sought in advance of the Inquest had not been provided until the Inquest hearing had actually begun.
The following are my findings
· There was no unreasonable delay on the part of the Defence Forces in making military personnel available either for interview or attendance at the Inquest.
· While it was the responsibility of An Garda Siochana to ensure the attendance of Prof. Jehuda Hiss and Dr. Ornit Yanai of the Greenberg Institute, the Defence Forces gave every assistance possible to the Gardai in locating the witnesses.
· It is a matter of concern that an item which was collected in evidence in relation to an incident as serious as Private Barrett's death was not properly preserved. In my view the current Defence Forces Practices and procedures in relation to the preservation of evidence collected in the course of investigations should now be reviewed and appropriate action taken.
Following my review I formed the following conclusions:
· Having discovered that the exhibit was missing a thorough search was immediately undertaken by the Defence Forces, but without success. I am however satisfied that every effort was made to trace the missing item.
· In my view the defence Forces did everything possible to assist the Garda Siochana in locating the billet in its new location. I am also of the view that their recommendation that the Gardai should inspect the billet in situ in the Lebanon was reasonable in the circumstances of this particular matter.
· While the family had some concerns that key witnesses seemed to change their accounts of the events surrounding Kevin’s death, I concluded that this was a matter over which the Defence Forces did not have any control or input.
· The Barrett family Solicitors did not receive the photographs requested, despite the decision of the Director of Legal Services that he had no legal objection to their being released to the Solicitors for the family.