A chilling chronicle, whether error or conspiracy
A complaint against Maurice McCabe morphed into a devastating allegation of child rape
For almost two and a half years, the State's child protection service kept files on Maurice McCabe and on four of his five children. The files were opened by social workers on foot of an allegation of child rape against the Garda whistleblower that turned out to be entirely false. Yet even after Tusla knew the allegation to be wrong, the falsehood remained on his children's files. Nobody followed up with either McCabe or the alleged victim during that time.
What really tipped the Tusla files into Gubu territory is that they coincide with the period when senior Garda officers were allegedly orchestrating a campaign to smear the whistleblower. The Commission of Investigation has escalated into a full Tribunal of Inquiry, and its remit includes establishing whether the false allegation was a cock-up or conspiracy and whether gardai used it to discredit him.
At the very least, the contents of the Tusla file amount to a chilling chronicle of how a historic allegation of abuse that was found to be without merit morphed - apparently due to a clerical error - into a devastating charge of child rape against the most persistent and high-profile critic of An Garda Siochana.
The file, which runs to more than 130 pages, begins in August 2013.
But the events central to its inception occurred seven years earlier, when Maurice McCabe was a Garda sergeant in Bailieborough Garda Station and made a complaint against a Garda colleague who was disciplined. In December 2006, the colleague's daughter complained to gardai that McCabe had abused her at a party some six or seven years previously.
He had allegedly tickled her during a game of hide and seek, pressing his body against her. The girl's complaint was investigated. In November 2007, the DPP decided that McCabe had no case to answer, observing that it was doubtful her allegations constituted a crime at all. Gardai closed their files but social workers left their file on the case incomplete. They did not interview Maurice McCabe, as they were required to do, and so the case was never properly closed.
Six years later, Maurice McCabe had turned Garda whistleblower, highlighting the practice of gardai abusing their discretion by wiping penalty points from the system.
The girl who made the complaint against Maurice McCabe, now a young woman, attended a single session with a counsellor from a HSE counselling service, and days later, Tusla opened its file on McCabe.
9 August 2013
In an office of the HSE, a counsellor dispatched a notification form to Tusla reporting suspected child sex abuse, following a session with a young woman who told her she had been allegedly abused by Maurice McCabe as a child. A solicitor for the young woman clarified last week that she recounted what she alleged happened at theparty, and never intended for the matter to go any further.
The counsellor obviously felt obliged to report the disclosure.
The original notification form is not in the Tusla file. It was removed when the error was discovered and returned to the data controller of the Health Service Executive.
According to Tusla's notes, the counsellor's report said that "during the course of counselling she [the alleged victim] alleged she experienced sexual abuse in childhood, that this abuse involved digital penetration, both vaginal and anal".
Her report went on to refer to the 2007 case, noting that "Mr McC was identified as the alleged perpetrator. It appears that no contact was made by this agency with Mr McC, his wife or children at that time."
According to reports last week, the counsellor now says that she typed her notification into a template, typing over a previous abuse notification relating to another man altogether. She failed to delete the crucial line about "digital penetration, both anal and vaginal" which was now mixed in with the allegation against McCabe.
15 August 2013
A Tusla social worker wrote to the Garda Superintendent who investigated the original allegations in 2006: "I note from the social work file that you conducted a criminal investigation into these allegations in 2007. However, it appears that the alleged perpetrator was not met with by the Health Service Executive at that time. I would like to meet with you to discuss the case prior to making any contact with the alleged perpetrator."
There is no record on file to confirm whether the social worker and the Garda Superintendent actually met to discuss the case.
Nine months elapsed before there was any further movement on the case.
30 April 2014
Files are created on Maurice McCabe's children. In a handwritten note, a duty social worker said she suspected that two were over 18 and two others were under 18, but there was no mention of McCabe's fifth child. "How do you want to proceed regarding the McCabe children?" she asked. When asked by McCabe how Tusla had obtained his children's details, the agency said the names of the four children were given to social workers in 2006.
May 2 2014
A social worker sent a formal notification of alleged abuse to the Superintendent in charge of Bailieborough Garda Station.
The Garda notification form included the allegation of "digital penetration, both vaginal and anal". This abuse is said to have occurred on one occasion in 1998/1999".
The Tusla files don't record what gardai did with this notification. However, according to the solicitor acting for the alleged victim, they acted swiftly on it. Gardai from Cavan contacted his client two days later about the allegation. They were told she did not allege digital penetration and had never intended the matter to go further. According to this account, gardai alerted either Tusla or the counsellor to the mistaken allegation.
14 May 2014
At 11.05am, a Tusla staff member emailed a social worker team leader: "[The counsellor]just called to say that she has made an error in her report to us re [name redacted]. The line "that this abuse involved digital penetration, both vaginal and anal" is an error and should not be in the referral. It is in fact a line from another referral on another adult that has been pasted in in error. [The counsellor] has apologised and is sending us an amended report asap".
At 11.13am, the team leader forwarded the email up the chain:
"A Garda notification was forwarded by us based on the information we received from [the counsellor]," she wrote. "This notification needs to be amended as soon as possible and the relevant superintendent needs to be updated with regard to same," the team leader wrote.
That same day, a document recording the "retrospective disclosure of abuse" was amended to read "[the alleged victim] informed me that there was a single incident of sexual abuse. At the time of the incident, both [the alleged victim] and the alleged were fully clothed and the incident involved inappropriate contact as the alleged rubbed himself up and down against [the alleged victim] in a sexual manner".
16 May 2014
At 3.15pm, the counsellor emailed a social worker at Tusla to say that the Garda superintendent she had notified of the abuse was still unaware of her mistake.
The subject line is "Report with clerical error".
"…I had another call in relation to the retrospective report which as you are aware contains a clerical error. I was informed that the Superintendent….was not yet aware of the clerical error and has been asked to meet with the Garda Commissioner in relation to the case. I have agreed to send the superintendent the amended and correct report by registered post today."
The Garda Commissioner at that time was Noirin O'Sullivan, having replaced Martin Callinan. Callinan - out of favour for having called Maurice McCabe "disgusting" and under fire over Garda scandals - was asked to consider his position by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and had resigned. But Noirin O'Sullivan's spokesperson said she never requested such a meeting.
20 May 2014
A director of counselling with the HSE asked Tusla to hand over all records that contained the "incorrect information" relating to Maurice McCabe. "I have been advised that by the regional data controller…[in the HSE] to request that all copies of the incorrect report be returned to me as director of the service as soon as possible."
There is another long gap in which nothing happened in relation to a serious allegation of abuse. Tusla later informed Maurice McCabe: "Given the demands on the service at the time, the case remained on a waiting list to be assigned to a social worker."
7 May 2015
A social worker reviewing files on the system noticed the Maurice McCabe case and wrote to her area manager: "I and [a colleague] have been reviewing files on the MTP today. One relates to Maurice McCabe and I would like to discuss the case with you before taking any action, as it appears that this concern was referred to us in 2007 and Mr McCabe was never met. It has come back again due to media coverage of Mr McCabe."
She noted that McCabe had yet to be allowed to respond to the allegations, and his wife would have to be told. "My issues are that we proposing to tell this woman that we have concerns after not doing it for possibly up to eight years…," she wrote.
8 May 2015
Her superior recommended that she contact the alleged victim "as there is some discrepancy in the allegations forwarded to us…This will allow us to check the reliability and accuracy of the allegations and determine whether there is a foundation to the allegations".
The social worker did contact the alleged victim that month, and she agreed to meet the social worker after her exams in June, according to Tusla's records. However, she didn't make contact.
Several more months elapsed before the social worker contacted Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
29 December 2015
Over Christmas week, the social worker wrote a letter to Maurice McCabe informing him for the first time since August 2013 about the allegation of abuse, and including in it, the false allegation that should have been wiped from Tusla's records.
Tusla has since confirmed to Maurice McCabe that although deleted from some files, the false allegation remained on the files which the agency had opened on four of his children.
She wrote: "That on one occasion between 1998 and 1999 at the home of Maurice McCabe, [the alleged victim] alleged that Maurice McCabe sexually abused her. The abuse allegedly involved digital penetration and the victim was aged six/seven years old. It is reported that this allegation was investigated by An Garda Siochana some years later, a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecution who directed that no prosecution take place."
The social worker offered to meet Maurice McCabe to give him an opportunity to respond.
28 January 2016
McCabe's solicitor, Sean Costello, wrote a detailed response to Tusla, denying the "wholly false and malicious allegation". Tusla did not reply.
February 2, 2016
The Tusla social worker emailed a colleague requesting the alleged victim's original statement, as she is "following up" on Maurice McCabe.
Her colleague forwarded her the alleged victim's two statements, in both of which she describes playing hide and seek at a party in Maurice McCabe's house when she was six. She said she hid in the sitting room. She said Maurice McCabe found her, tickled her as she was bent over the arm of the couch, and that he was pressing himself against her.
"I can't remember if he said that he had caught me or if I just stood up when he came in because I knew I was caught. I can't remember anything that happened???? [sic] the only thing I can remember is being over the couch."…."
In another statement she said: "I would have been in sixth class that I realised it was not right what he had done to me."
22 June 2016
The social worker finally replied to the letter of January 28 from Maurice McCabe's solicitor Sean Costello. The social worker wrote: "I apologise that a mistake was made in my previous correspondence. I can confirm to you that no allegation of "digital penetration" has been made in relation to your client."
Sean Costello continued writing to Tusla seeking an explanation for his client but none was forthcoming. Unknown to McCabe, Tusla had escalated the case internally, "given complex legal issues and DS McCabe's profession and high media profile".
An internal risk report dated August 2016 acknowledged that "fair procedures had not been followed and our investigation 10 years ago proceeding [sic] without ever meeting DS McCabe and with no formal closure".
25 August 2016
Tusla had attempted again to contact the alleged victim an internal email reports that "[name redacted] called in relation to a letter received about a referral .... and whether she wanted to pursue it further. She has said that she does not want to peruse [sic] it any further."
Tusla prepared to close the case.
22 September 2016
Tusla's legal department wrote to McCabe's solicitor: "The agency will not be proceeding with its assessment of the allegations of [name redacted] and in this regard we have closed our file". It confirmed there were "no outstanding allegations or findings" recorded against Maurice McCabe on their file.
There was no mention of an apology to Maurice McCabe. That took another four months to extract.