Katrina Brolly was one of twelve people arrested by gardaí in Donegal investigating the “murder” of Richie Barron – which was later found to have been a hit-and-run killing. At the Morris Tribunal on 27 March, she proved to be a resilient and self-assured witness, writes Gerard Cunningham.
In 1996, when she was arrested and questioned over the death of Richie Barron, Katrina Brolly was thirty-six years old. She lived in Raphoe, Donegal, with her husband Eunan, a painter, and their three young children Peter (then aged 12), Debbie (10) and Christine (8).
On the morning of 4 December 1996, as Katrina Brolly was getting the children ready for school, a friend arrived to tell Katrina that her sister, Róisín McConnell, had been arrested.
Katrina Brolly went to see her brother, Gerard Quinn, and together they went to their mother’s house.
By this stage, Rosalind McBrearty had heard that her son, Frank McBrearty Jnr, was also under arrest, along with his cousin Mark McConnell, wife of Róisín McConnell.
The women eventually ended up in the home of Katrina Brolly’s aunt, Dolly Eaton. Dolly Eaton’s daughter, Charlotte Peoples, had also been arrested.
Charlotte Peoples’s husband, Michael Peoples, had been arrested earlier, and Charlotte Peoples had been arrested when she went to a Garda station to ask why her husband had been arrested.
Edel Quinn, another sister of Katrina Brolly and Róisín McConnell, had also been arrested – she was being held in Lifford because Letterkenny Garda Station was unable to process all the people who’d been arrested.
That evening, three gardaí called to Katrina Brolly’s home and took a statement from her. “To be quite honest, with all that was going on that day, I actually don’t know what he was on about, it just wasn’t registering with me,” she told the Tribunal. A couple of hours later, when she went to collect Róisín McConnell, who had been released from custody, she too was arrested.
What followed was a harrowing twelve hours, during which, Katrina Brolly alleges, her hair was pulled, she was shown graphic post-mortem photographs, she was told she would go to jail for fourteen years, and she was accused of having an extra-marital affair. Many of those allegations have now been corroborated by recent statements from detectives John White and John Dooley.
When Katrina Brolly got the chance to see her solicitor, he told her she would be offered the opportunity to rest during the night. She told the Tribunal that he told her, “‘they will ask you to suspend it, but’, he says, ‘they’ll let you sleep and then in the morning they’ll get you up at eight o’clock again and’, he says, ‘you’ll not be out of here till two o’clock’.” She took the solicitor’s advice to “stick it out during the night”.
Katrina Brolly proved to be resilient under questioning.
She was told during the questioning that Richie Barron would come back to haunt her; she replied, “I wish to God he would. He might tell yous what happened him.”
As morning approached, the detectives questioning her, John White and John Dooley, complained that they were tired and had been working for almost twenty-four hours. Katrina Brolly replied that she too had been awake all night, “on as long a shift as them”, she told the Tribunal.
During the questioning, Katrina Brolly was first threatened with fourteen years in prison, then seven years, then later asked how she would feel having to raise her sister Róisín’s son, Dean, if Róisín went to prison.
“I remember thinking that’s not too bad, I started out getting fourteen years now I’m looking after Dean,” she later told private detective Billy Flynn.
Concluding his questioning on Monday afternoon, tribunal barrister Paul McDermott SC said to Katrina Brolly: “One can envisage a situation where this kind of wrongful behaviour was carried out in order to get you to confess or to admit to something which you would know in your heart was false… Did you ever feel like doing that during the course of that period?”
“Doing what?” asked Katrina.
“Saying something to get out of there?”
“No. I was always brought up to tell the truth and there was no way I was going to – I wasn’t going to sit and tell lies just to save myself.”