Saturday 29 April 2017

Now Tusla dragged into 'sex crimes' smear

Child rape claims 'were copied and pasted in error'

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

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

A 'copy and pasting error' in a referral report made by a counsellor to the Child and Family Agency Tusla led to a devastating chain of events which saw Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe alleged to be a child rapist.

A document outlining the litany of errors made by Tusla in the investigation was compiled by the Chief State Solicitor's Office for the O'Higgins Report last year. This report was obtained by RTÉ's 'Prime Time' programme, the details of which were broadcast last night. The report outlines an extraordinary and damning chain of events which occurred over the last 10 years.

Complaint

The report relates how Sergeant Maurice McCabe made a complaint about a colleague in January 2006. This complaint led to the colleague being disciplined.

That September, the colleague made a complaint about Maurice McCabe on behalf of his daughter.

The girl subsequently made a complaint about Maurice McCabe in which she alleged the garda sergeant had tickled and behaved inappropriately towards her while she played hide and seek with his children a decade earlier.

The allegation was investigated by gardaí and a file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in which gardaí said there was no ground for prosecution. The DPP agreed, making the observation that it was doubtful whether the allegations made would constitute an offence in the first place.

In August 2013, when Sgt McCabe's whistleblowing was dominating news headlines, the allegations reared their head again, but were on a more serious scale.

During this time, a counsellor notified Tusla that a client she had been counselling had disclosed to her that she had been sexually abused in childhood at the hands of Sgt McCabe. The client was the same woman who had made the previous allegation in 2006.

According to the counsellor's report, the complaint alleged digital pentration.

Days after receiving the report, a social worker contacted a garda involved in the original investigation.

However, it is not known if they ever met to discuss the case further.

The report alleges that a formal garda notification outlining details of the allegation was not sent to the superintendent of the district involved until May 2, around eight months later.

The report also outlined that files were opened on the garda sergeant's four children in April 2014 - each file containing the allegation their father had abused a young child.

On May 14 2014, the counsellor contacted Tusla to say she had made an administrative error in her report to them.

An internal Tusla email, which related to the counsellor's orginal referral, stated: "The line that this 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 client that has been pasted in in error. The counsellor has apologised and is sending us an amended report ASAP"

Within minutes of this report being received, a social worker recommended the Garda notification on Maurice McCabe b e amended immediately, and updated with this information.

An amended Garda notification was sent to the relevant garda superintendent, stating the counsellor's initital report contained an "administrative error". This notice stated that both parties were fully clothed at the time of the alleged offence and the girl had alleged inappropriate contact.

However, it appears another error was made by Tusla.

Penetration

The 'Prime Time' programme related how on December 29 2015 a child protection social worker wrote to Maurice McCabe informing him an investigation was taking place into allegations he had sexually abused a child, allegedly involving digital penetration.

This was the first time the garda had heard about the allegation, the report stated.

In a letter from his solicitor to the social worker, Sgt McCabe denied the allegations in their entirety.

He also set out the previous circumstances of when the allegation was made in 2006, and how the DPP had directed no prosecution and observed that it was doubtful whether the allegation constituted an offence in the first place.

In June 2016, a social worker from Tusla responded.

She said the agency was obliged to investigate the allegations - but said a mistake had been made in previous correspondence.

"I can confirm to you that no allegation of digital penetration has been made in relation to your client," the social worker said.

Sgt McCabe requested of Tusla that all copies of records made on and his family be released to him.

It is also understood that the woman who made the allegations told Tusla in August she does not want to pursue the matter any further.

On January 27, Tusla wrote to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.

The letter stated: "I regret the management of this case did not meet the high standard set for the service and it is the intention to issue a full formal apology to Mr McCabe for the failings."

Separately, fresh claims emerged last night that Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan met gardaí in June 2014 to discuss the allegations that had been brought forward by the counsellor.

However, senior Garda sources have denied that this is the case.

The same sources hit back at Tusla, saying the agency was at fault for allowing the unsubstantiated allegation to remain on its database until recently.

Tusla last night declined to comment on the controversy.

"Tusla does not comment on individual cases. This is to protect the privacy and wellbeing of the children and families with whom we work," a spokesman said.

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A spokesman for An Garda Síochána said that all Tusla referrals were dealt with by gardaí in their local divisions.

"Notifications and/or referrals from Tusla to An Garda Síochána are given to local Garda management to examine," the spokesman said.

"The roles and responsibilities of all agencies in such matters are set out in the 'Children First' guidelines. When a child protection concern is received by Tusla, it is screened and assessed in line with 'Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children'."

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald declined to comment, saying it was a matter for Tusla.

The development comes as the controversy surrounding Commissioner O'Sullivan dominated the Dáil agenda yesterday. TDs spent several hours debating the terms of reference for the Charleton Inquiry, which will examine the alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblowers.

It has now emerged that Fianna Fáil is seeking a number of amendments to the terms of reference. The party wants all ministers, past and present, who may have had contact with Garda management over the issue of whistleblowers to be included.

Fianna Fáil is also seeking to ensure the Tusla link is investigated by Judge Peter Charleton.

During a Dáil debate, Mr Howlin defended his decision to raise the sexual abuse claims on the floor.

He told TDs that he spoke to Sgt McCabe, who backed his decision - one which a number of deputies had criticised.

The Cabinet will next week discuss calls to expand the terms of reference for the judge-led inquiry.

Irish Independent

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