Sunday 24 September 2017

Garda gossip forced into the open by rising drama - A timeline of events

Inquiry set to explore allegations of campaign to discredit whistleblower Maurice McCabe, writes Maeve Sheehan

Whistleblower Maurice McCabe outside Leinster House in 2014 Photo: Tom Burke
Whistleblower Maurice McCabe outside Leinster House in 2014 Photo: Tom Burke

Maeve Sheehan and Philip Ryan

On the eve of the first anniversary of Garda Adrian Donohoe's murder, the then Commissioner, Martin Callinan, was preparing to host a press conference on his slain colleague.

Garda Donohoe had been shot dead by armed robbers who held up a post office cash delivery in the village of Lordship in Louth. One year on, the gang who murdered the popular husband and father had still not been caught - and they remain at large to this day.

That afternoon, on the eve of Garda Donohoe's first anniversary, Callinan was to be driven to Dundalk garda station where he would brief reporters on developments in the murder investigation and issue an appeal for information.

The event was coordinated by David Taylor, who was then superintendent in the Garda Press Office. His job would have included coordinating the press releases and preparing the venue, Dundalk Garda Station.

But according to informed sources, he got a text message to the effect that the garda commissioner would be delayed. It transpired that Martin Callinan had some urgent business to attend to before he briefed the press.

A short time later the garda commissioner pulled in to the car park of Bewleys Hotel on the Naas Road.

John McGuinness was already there waiting, in his car, responding to the commissioner's call.

The Fianna Fail TD may well have guessed what the commissioner would have wanted with him. At that time, McGuinness was the vocal and strident chairman of the influential Public Accounts Committee. He had taken on State agencies and charities and had recently turned his attention to the Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe's concerns about malpractice in the force. He invited McCabe to a special meeting of the PAC that very week. Which, as McGuinness would later claim, was why Martin Callinan wanted to meet him.

So in a car in the Bewleys Hotel car park, the most powerful police officer in the State uttered "vile and disturbing" allegations about the whistleblower to one of the country's most high-profile politicians.

When he later disclosed this surreptitious meeting in the Dail, John McGuinness never divulged the exact nature of the allegations.

But the revelations of last week have dramatically changed the landscape, by forcing the rumour and gossip that has been peddled for years between gardai, journalists and politicians into the open.

Last Tuesday, the Government announced a Commission of Inquiry into allegations by the now suspended David Taylor, and Maurice McCabe, that senior gardai orchestrated a campaign to discredit him.

It wasn't this that changed the landscape, however.

That happened when Brendan Howlin, the Labour Party leader, told the Dail what a journalist had told him: that the current Garda Commissioner, Noirin O'Sullivan, had contacted the media with "very serious allegations of sexual crimes" against Maurice McCabe. Howlin claimed this happened in 2013.

Noirin O'Sullivan's emphatically denied this charge. "This is the first occasion on which the Commissioner has been made aware of the allegations made by Deputy Howlin and to her knowledge no report having been made to An Garda Siochana Ombudsman or elsewhere relating to the specific allegations."

Next RTE's Prime Time and the Examiner broke the simply jaw-dropping story that a false allegation that McCabe had raped a child had been passed on to gardai in 2013.

Back to Martin Callinan's now infamous car park meeting with John McGuinness.

The date of their meeting was January 24, 2014.

What "vile and disturbing" allegations did the then garda commissioner pass on to John McGuinness, so appalling that a politician dared not utter, even under Dail privilege?

The so-called Tusla files exploded into the public domain last week, forcing a rewrite of the terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation into allegations that Garda smeared McCabe.

But they are just one strand in the story. Maurice McCabe's legal team has sought his investigation file from the Garda Commissioner and the Health Service Executive.

The Tusla files start in 2006 when a young woman disclosed to a counsellor in the midlands an allegation of abuse she claimed happened to her as a young child.

When she was six, she said, Sergeant Maurice McCabe had rubbed up against her inappropriately at a birthday party. She herself was the daughter of a garda, and she had told her parents about what happened. In 2006.

What followed later became the stuff of gossip that was peddled to journalists.

The allegation was put to McCabe who not only denied it but insisted that it be investigated fully. It was. A file was sent to the DPP, who directed that there should be no charges. According to one report yesterday, the DPP concluded that in all likelihood the allegation did not even constitute a criminal offence.

There the matter lay until August 2013, by which time Sergeant Maurice McCabe had turned whistleblower, alleging Garda misconduct, routine wiping of penalty points and shoddy police work in general.

That month, the same young woman who made the allegations against McCabe all those years before, attended a counsellor and disclosed her allegations of historical child abuse against McCabe.

The counsellor reported the allegation to Tusla, the child and family agency, which in turn reported it to gardai.

At this point, matters took a distinctly freakish twist.

The counsellor created a record of the allegation but - according to a Tusla review - she cut and pasted the incorrect form of alleged abuse from a template.

The words "digital penetration" were inserted into the woman's complaint, so that the allegation that McCabe had rubbed up inappropriately against a child became the grievous charge of child rape.

However, the counsellor did not realise her mistake, according to Tusla's review of the case. The Sunday Independent understands that the young woman who made the allegation was also unaware of the error.

So it was that in August 2013, a letter containing an effective charge of child rape against the man who proved himself the biggest thorn in the side of An Garda Siochana landed on the desk of a garda superintendent.

It was a serious sexual abuse charge. But no one contacted Maurice McCabe about it at that time, not Tusla and not An Garda Siochana.

It is curious timing that four months after this false allegation surfaced, the then garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, was seeking out John McGuinness to pass on his "vile and disturbing" allegations about McCabe.

Tusla's interest in the grave allegation against Maurice McCabe escalated in April 2014.

That month, social workers opened files in the names of each of Sergeant McCabe's children, including in them the allegations of sexual abuse and the personal details of each child. Two of them were aged over 18 at the time.

Still no one told McCabe.

In May 2014, the counsellor realised her error although it is not clear from the Tusla files how. According to one informed source, it was in fact gardai who alerted her to her mistake.

According to the source, gardai approached the complainant about her allegation, which included digital penetration against McCabe. She denied having made that claim.

When Gardai told the counsellor, she checked her files and discovered what she later term "a clerical error".

Tusla's files show that the counsellor's error had certainly been uncovered by May 2014. A statement issued by the Health Service Executive confirmed that yesterday.

The HSE said that its National Counselling Service brought the error and a corrected report to the attention of Tusla and An Garda Siochana.

For all that time, the false accusations sat on a Garda file - that Maurice McCabe didn't even know existed. Meanwhile, according to the protected disclosures by whistleblowers, Garda management made hay.

There is a suggestion that the Maurice McCabe claim went all the way to the top of the force.

On May 16 of that year, the counsellor emailed Tusla to say she had just found out that the Superintendent had been asked to see the current Garda Commissioner about the case but was unaware that the allegation of digital penetration against Maurice McCabe was wrong.

"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 has denied that she had ever suggested such a meeting with the superintendent.

The superintendent was not the only professional who was out of the loop on this "clerical error".

So too were Tusla social workers - even up to January 2016 - a full year and a half after the error had spotted.

On December 29, a social worker sat down in the middle of the Christmas week to write a letter to Maurice McCabe. The social worker outlined the allegation of digital rape and said that McCabe would have to be interviewed.

McCabe received the letter in early January last year. It was a bombshell for McCabe, who last week let it be known that it had "destroyed his life".

On June 20 2016, the same social worker again wrote to Sgt McCabe saying a mistake had been made and no allegation of sexual abuse had been made.

Only when McCabe's legal team obtained his file from Tusla through the Freedom of Information Act did he realise the sequence of errors, oversights and misinformation that was so damaging to his reputation that it beggared belief there was no malice involved.

A short review of the catastrophic handling of the allegation which Tusla gave to the Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, last week.

The unpublished review, seen by the Sunday Independent, raises even more questions about the case.

It traces the allegation against McCabe back to 2006. But it says that the HSE social work department did not complete a child protection investigation at the time, nor did they contact McCabe.

It charts how the allegation arose again in 2013, was corrected in May 2014, and how for more than a year it languished on in the files, and remained "unallocated".

The file was reviewed by a social worker in May 2015. The allegation was not followed up until December of that year, when the social worker wrote to Maurice McCabe.

The review says it is not clear why the social worker included the uncorrected allegation. Nor why it was decided to proceed was made without the "cooperation or the corroboration" of the alleged victim, and "without having formed some opinion with regard to the credibility of the allegation that was referred".

When the Sexual Abuse Regional Team reviewed the case last year, the alleged victim was invited to a meeting to discuss the allegation.

According to the review, she failed to show up for the meeting and later contacted the Social Work Department to say she didn't want to pursue the matter any further.

As for Maurice McCabe, the report concluded - perhaps with some understatement - that he "was not afforded fair procedures with regard to the allegation".

This weekend, Tusla offered a full written apology to McCabe but sent it to the wrong address.

The HSE yesterday put out a statement saying there had been an "administrative error" and apologised "unreservedly" to McCabe.

The Tusla papers - and the information they have shaken out - have proved that McCabe was the victim of a false allegation of sex abuse, that senior gardai knew about this allegation.

It is the Commission of Investigation's task to find out whether this grievous allegation became the ammunition that they hoped would take Sergeant Maurice McCabe down.

Sunday Independent

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