The statement issued by the press office of the Guard Headquarters on Thursday night at 22.55 hours is unprecedented in the modern era.
Not only was the man arrested in the investigation into the murder of Ashling Murphy (23) released without charge, but the Civil Guard confirmed that he was now certain that he was not involved in the crime.
“This man has been removed from the Guard’s investigation and is no longer a suspect,” the statement said, urging publishers to “clearly and unequivocally state” their lack of involvement in the crime.
During two days of interrogation, understands The Irish Times, he vehemently denied any involvement in a crime that shook the public.
At least one person close to him told the Civil Guard that they had been with him at the time of the murder, a long way from the assault. However, it was the forensic evidence that confirmed his innocence.
The Civil Guard believes that the same forensic evidence, quickly collected on the Grand Canal towpath in the hours following the crime, will bring the killer to justice.
Even before the nightly statement, Guard Commissioner Drew Harris, speaking in Tullamore, made it clear that the Civil Guard did not close other lines of investigation, even though a man was being questioned.
A new person of interest was identified yesterday, and the Civil Guard was waiting last night to speak to him, after he had been treated for a series of injuries at a Dublin hospital.
The man arrested and released has been living in Tullamore for many years. He was arrested on the basis, at least in part, of a description given to the Civil Guard by members of the public who were at the scene of the crime.
Gardaí quickly went to a house and talked to a man. Based on the description given, the alleged involvement of the man in previous assaults and dissatisfaction with his responses, was subjected to a formal interrogation.
He was detained under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows for 24 hours of interrogation without charge, not including breaks. Section 4 is used to investigate serious crimes.
It allows for “unrestrained” detention if the Guard “with reasonable cause” suspects that a person has “committed a crime”. Arrest should also be “necessary for the proper investigation of the crime.”
It is not uncommon for people to be arrested and released without charge. In fact, it happens every day. The main suspects, or those who may be hiding information or who are suspected of helping a criminal, are usually arrested and released without charge on the same day or the next day.
In some cases they charge later. In others they are never charged, although they may be arrested on several occasions for questioning the same crime.
Arrested people are sometimes highly suspected of being involved in or covering up a serious crime, but the Civil Guard simply cannot find enough evidence to prosecute them. In short, their arrest is part of a selective and informed effort to bring them, or someone close to them, to justice. Gardaí’s efforts are often short-lived due to lack of evidence.
This is not the case with Wednesday’s arrest.
Nor is it unprecedented, though very unusual, for people to be arrested in connection with a murder only for the Civil Guard to quickly realize that they have made a mistake.
In 2006, when Wayne Zambra was shot dead in Dublin 8 during an episode of the Crumlin-Drimnagh dispute, two men were arrested near the crime scene.
The Civil Guard quickly learned that the men were not involved in the crime. The two men were released without charge, and with very few media comments.
One difference between that case in 2006 and the arrest of the man in Tullamore on Wednesday is that the murder of Ashling Murphy provoked public outrage in a way that the murder of alleged drug gang members would never have done.
Another difference is the increasing prevalence of social media. The arrested man has been the subject of misinformed comments on various social channels which could still be costly for some of those involved.
Public outcry and anger over the murder and the high volume of comments on social media made the Civil Guard feel compelled to ensure that the detainee was exonerated when he was released.