The statement, issued by the Garda Headquarters Press Office at 10.55 pm on Thursday, was without precedent in the modern era.
Not only was the man arrested in the Ashling Murphy (23) murder investigation released without charge, but Gardai confirmed it was now certain he had no involvement in the crime.
“This man has been removed from the Garda inquiry and is no longer a suspect,” the statement confirmed, urging the editors to “clearly and unequivocally state” their lack of involvement in the crime.
During the two days of interrogation, The Irish Times understands, he has denied any involvement in a crime that has shocked the public.
At least one person close to him told Gardai that they were with him at the time of the murder, far away from the attack. However, it was forensic evidence that confirmed his innocence.
Gardai believes that the same forensic evidence – quickly gathered on the Grand Canal Topath in the hours following the crime – will bring the killer to justice.
Even before the late night statement, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, speaking in Tullamore, made it clear that Garda had not closed other lines of investigation, even though one person was being questioned.
A new person of interest was identified yesterday, and Gardai waited to speak to him last night while he was being treated for multiple injuries at a Dublin hospital.
The man arrested and released has been living in Tullamore for many years. He was arrested, at least in part, based on descriptions given to Gardai by members of the public present at the crime scene.
Gardai hurriedly went to a house and talked to a man. Based on the details given, the man’s alleged involvement in the previous attacks and dissatisfaction with his reactions, he was taken for formal questioning.
He was detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows 24-hour interrogation without charge, excluding breaks. Section 4 is used to investigate major offences.
It allows arrest “without warrant” if Gardai “with reasonable cause” suspects a person of “committing an offence”. The arrest should also be “necessary for the proper investigation of the offence”.
It is not unusual for people to be arrested and released without charge. Actually, it happens every day. The prime suspects, or those who may withhold information or who are suspected of aiding the offender, are often arrested and released on the same day or the next day without charge.
In some cases they are charged later. In others they are never charged, even though they may be arrested on several different occasions for questioning about the same crime.
Sometimes, those arrested are highly suspected of having been involved in, or concealing, a serious crime, but Gardai does not find enough evidence to charge them. In short, his arrest is part of a targeted and informed effort to bring him or someone close to him to justice. Those attempts at Gardai often fail for lack of evidence.
Not so with Wednesday’s arrest.
It is also not unprecedented – although it is very unusual – for people to be arrested in connection with the murder only for Gardai to realize that he has made a mistake.
In 2006, when Wayne Zambra was shot dead at Dublin 8 during an episode of the Crumlin-Drimnag gangland brawl, two men were arrested close to the crime scene.
Gardai quickly realized that the men had no involvement in the crime. Two men were released without charge, and with little media comment.
One difference between that case in 2006 and the man’s arrest in Tullamore on Wednesday is that the murder of Ashling Murphy has fueled public anger in a way that suspected drug gang members would never be murdered.
Another difference is the increasing prevalence of social media. The man arrested was the subject of uninformed commentary on several social channels, which could have proved costly for some of the people involved so far.
Public outcry and anger about the murder and the large amount of social media commentary meant that Gerdai felt obliged to ensure that the arrested person was arrested upon release.