So the inquest of Swiss student Manuela Riedo took place in Galway yesterday. Earlier this year Gerald Barry was convicted of her murder after one of the most emotional trials I’ve ever covered.
The 17-year-old had only been in Ireland for three days when Barry dragged her off the path she was taking to meet friends in Galway city and horrifically raped and murdered her. From the time of the murder this was a crime that caused utter outrage across the country. It has scarcely been out of the news since Barry was found guilty with news that an Irish businessman had donated money to set up a foundation in her memory. There’s to be a fund-raising concert in her home town of Bern later in the summer and her parents were back in Ireland only last week to launch the foundation.
They have been back to Galway many times since their daughter’s death and after the trial spoke of the firm friendships they’ve made there and the people who supported them. They weren’t at the inquest. I don’t blame them. During the trial I wrote about her father’s tears as he spent his birthday listening to the post mortem evidence. Manuela was Hans Peter and Arlette Riedo’s only child. The trip to Galway was her first trip alone. It was an unspeakable tragedy that she should have encountered an animal like Barry on that trip.
The inquest jury warned against taking the shortcut Manuela took that night. During the trial there were several journos who knew Galway well, all knew the route known locally as the Line, knew how desolate it was in broad daylight, let alone after dark. The days when you could walk the isolated byways of Ireland in safety are long gone – if they were ever there in the first place and not simply the product of sugar coated nostalgia.
It would be naive to think that murder and rape only became an issue in Ireland in recent years. Of course they didn’t. But it’s an undeniable fact that they have become a more frequent occurrence than they may have been in simpler times. When I first started working in the courts I worked for a specialist news agency down there. My boss told me that when he started that beat, over twenty years ago the agency could tick over with just him and maybe one other person. Murders were few and far between – noted events when they happened.
These days there will frequently be as many as three happening at once. This week for example there was the Ronnie Dunbar trial, the trial of Gary Campion, who’s accused of a murder in Limerick (that one’s been going for over two months out in Clover Hill) and Noel Cawley who’s accused of killing a pensioner in a robbery. That’s just the murders – there are even more rapes going through the courts.
I’m not going into why there are so many more serious crimes going through the courts. There are a multitude of reasons, some obvious, some less so, some proven, others mere speculation. But the fact remains that the prevalence of these cases is a fact of modern life. We know about the growth of gang violence, that accounts for some of it. Random, drunken fights that went too far is another factor. Money increasingly seems to play a part. When it comes down to it though people kill for the same reasons they always have. If these days there is less value placed on human life…well as I say, I’m not getting into that here – it pays the bills after all.
It’s sad that these days murder is no longer so unusual that any loss of life is a news event. Dozens of trials pass through the courts that get little or no media attention. They are usually the trials where drink was involved, and young men with volatile tempers. Trials that are in danger of blending into one another after a while if you watch enough of them. It’s easy to forget when you cover nothing but murder that each death is a private tragedy for the families involved. It’s easy to dehumanise the accused, to make assumptions.
Some trials will always get more interest, they have a “hook” to pique the interest of the media. It could be the victim, a pretty schoolgirl like Manuela or an attractive young mother like Rachel O’Reilly. It could be fact the accused came from a background where violence is less likely to be so overt, like Dublin 4 resident Finn Colclough or the killing of Brian Murphy outside Annabel’s nightclub. These are the trial that make the headlines, the one’s I’ll usually be covering, but there are many others that don’t register.
When I was working for the agency I got to see the other trials. The ones that go on in empty courtrooms while the main event is happening on the other side of the Round Hall. I would usually be the only journalist there. The stories I wrote each evening would often not be used. But each trial was the story of a life that had been cut short, at the wrong time, by someone who didn’t have the right to do so. A violent death is always a tragedy. It’s just not always a story…sadly.