Friday 24 October 2014

Whistleblower's search for justice – and what the future may hold

Sergeant Maurice McCabe has been banging his drum for seven years

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

Taxi-driver Mary Lynch from Kells, Co Meath
Sylvia Roche Kelly (33), whose body was discovered on December 8, 2007
Jerry McGrath, who was found guilty of false imprisonment of a girl, 5, and of the murder of Ms Roche-Kelly. Photo: TV3
Jerry McGrath, who was found guilty of false imprisonment of a girl, 5, and of the murder of Ms Roche-Kelly. Photo: TV3

IT'S not so long ago that the garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe, was fighting to be heard. He pounded on the door of the Minister for Justice with a dossier of complaints against the gardai. Sources close to the whistleblower claimed he was victimised and harassed.

As recently as January, the sergeant from Cavan faced the risk of losing his job for testifying before a private session of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee about corruption in the penalty points system.

Six weeks on, thanks to fortuitous timing, Sergeant McCabe's allegations of malpractice in the force took centre stage in the rolling wave of political controversies to dog Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Just as Mr Shatter was fighting off allegations that he sided with the Garda Commissioner to downplay the alleged bugging of the Garda Ombudsman's offices, along came Maurice McCabe with his dossier of allegations of garda malpractice dating back over six years.

The sergeant briefed Micheal Martin on 10 cases that the Fianna Fail leader deemed so serious that an independent investigation was required. The cases, Martin told the Dail, involved "abduction, assault and ultimately murder".

He gave the dossier to the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who agreed that the allegations were "grave" and "very serious".

After years banging his drum in the political and garda wilderness, Sergeant McCabe last week finally secured an independent inquiry into allegations of malpractice.

On Wednesday, the Taoiseach announced that Sean Guerin, an experienced criminal lawyer would assess Mr McCabe's allegations and hoped that he would complete a report before Easter which would be laid before the Oireachtas. If Mr Guerin recommended that a Commission of Inquiry equipped with statutory powers was warranted, then one would be held.

According to sources close to Sergeant McCabe, he is delighted with the terms of reference.

They specifically stipulate that he must be interviewed about his allegations – one of his complaints was that he had not been interviewed in the garda internal investigation of his claims about abuse of the penalty points system.

Sources said he hopes to have a preliminary meeting with Sean Guerin, the barrister who is heading up the inquiry, as soon as this week. All going well, he plans on handing over two bulky dossiers which will form the basis of Mr Guerin's investigations.

One dossier covers 20 cases of alleged malpractice. These are what he believes are the most serious ones.

They include 10 cases that were in the file he gave to Micheal Martin and which Mr Martin then gave to the Taoiseach.

The remainder include some of the 12 cases of alleged malpractice that he highlighted to Alan Shatter two years ago.

The second dossier sets out around 200 cases of less serious offences relating to drugs and motoring offences such as dangerous driving.

In the Dail last week, Alan Shatter seemed to suggest that Mr McCabe's complaints had already been dealt with. The Taoiseach said that 11 out of the 12 allegations of wrong doing he raised with Mr Shatter had proved "groundless".

Yet the Taoiseach still agreed to appoint Mr Guerin to investigate the complaints – not because they hadn't been dealt with already but because he believed it was "the prudent way to proceed in view of all the comments and allegations and documents surrounding these matters".

But what exactly is the malpractice being complained of? And will Mr McCabe's allegations stand up to scrutiny?

Micheal Martin and the Taoiseach haven't divulged the contents of the dossiers they have received.

Some are public knowledge by now, including the shocking murder of Sylvia Roche Kelly in Limerick in 2007.

Her killer, Jerry McGrath, was on bail for viciously assaulting taxi-driver Mary Lynch, and while on bail for that offence, attempted to abduct a child from her family home in Tipperary.

How Jerry McGrath got bail – twice – for the earlier offences was one of the complaints made by Mr McCabe.

He claimed that when McGrath was charged with the child abduction in a Tipperary court, the judge was not told of the seriousness of the assault on Mary Lynch.

He was later backed up by the Garda Ombudsman, which received two complaints about the two earlier investigations into Mr McGrath.

But the Ombudsman found that the garda involved had still vigorously tried to persuade the judge not to release McGrath, citing among other things his fears that he would commit more crime. The judge still granted bail.

Mr McCabe claimed to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) that he had been wrongly implicated in the Jerry McGrath case by another garda, and has provided taped conversations which he claims prove it.

This allegation – and the tapes – are now being examined by GSOC, which has launched another investigation on foot of a fresh complaint from Mary Lynch, the taxi-driver.

As to Sgt McCabe's other complaints, Alan Shatter outlined some of them in the Dail last week, to demonstrate how they had been dealt with both internally, by the Confidential Recipient, and by GSOC.

* Failure to notify a court in a child abduction case that the accused was already on bail for a serious charge – which was the Jerry McGrath case.

* Failure to properly investigate several cases; failure to forward a report relating to poor standards at Bailieborough Station.

* Falsification of records.

* Failure to deal with sexual harassment of a female garda.

* The giving of a direction to Sergeant McCabe to cease assessing and monitoring probationary gardai.

* Sgt McCabe also alleged that he was harassed and victimised for complaining.

An Assistant Commissioner examined all of these complaints and, according to Mr Shatter, sent "10 volumes of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions".

There were no prosecutions but some gardai were disciplined. The Garda watchdog, GSOC, was also made aware of the investigation into Mr McCabe's complaints but didn't take any further action.

In January 2012, Mr McCabe went to the Confidential Recipient, Oliver Connolly, with 12 allegations about a garda superintendent and against the Garda Commissioner for allowing him to be selected for promotion.

He complained about an Assistant Commissioner who had investigated his complaints in the first place, and whom he had accused of false imprisonment and assault.

"Not only were there accusations of malpractice but also of corruption in that gardai were generally accused of engaging in falsifying records, erasing official records, erasing reported incidents, destroying and altering official records, covering up serious investigations and gross dereliction of duty on a massive scale," Mr Shatter said.

Within a week, Mr Shatter had ascertained from the Garda Commissioner that 11 of the 12 allegations were dealt with and the twelfth, which involved a priest accused of raping a child, had resulted in a conviction, and had been dealt with speedily.

He wrote to the Confidential Recipient, effectively saying case closed.

That would have been that. But Mr McCabe does not give up easily.

In the intervening years, he was vindicated in his claims that there were problems with the penalty points system, which is now being overhauled. But his claims of widespread corruption were not supported by the internal Garda inquiry.

But in the Dail last week, Mr Shatter seemed to portray Sgt McCabe as the boy who cried wolf.

"Allegations could prove false", he said, not from malice but because of "a mistaken perception or understanding of events".

"Life is complicated and not everything is simply black and white," he said.

Detractors in the force – and he has many – say that Maurice McCabe is a serial complainer who has been raising issues about substandard investigations for seven years.

As the Taoiseach told the Dail last week: "The good sergeant has been in contact with the garda authorities, GSOC, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Committee of Public Accounts, other Members of the Oireachtas and the media, as is his right."

According to sources close to Sgt McCabe, his beef is not just whether allegations were properly investigated – either internally or by the DPP – but also how garda management responded to complaints and how those managers conducted themselves when they were investigated.

For instance, appropriate action was taken in the case of the female garda who was sexually assaulted but according to sources close to Sgt McCabe, it was the "appalling" manner in which she was treated that he objected to.

The case of false imprisonment – which is understood to be included in the dossier to Micheal Martin – was simply not investigated at all, according to sources close to Sgt McCabe.

The case related to a female bus driver who encountered difficulties with some passengers on her bus in 2007, according to informed sources. She claimed she had been falsely imprisoned on her own vehicle and assaulted and made a detailed statement to gardai at the time.

Three months after she gave the statement, the woman was contacted by an investigating garda who told her the inquiry was not being pursued and she was asked to withdraw her complaint. She was offered €50 from each of the three offenders.

But according to one garda source, the money was supposed to be recompense for damage to the bus.

Although a complaint was later made to GSOC, the woman didn't pursue it for fear her licence might be at risk.

Sources close to Sgt McCabe said his serious complaints of "falsification of records" were not investigated either.

They were "incidences" relating to drugs, dangerous driving and motoring offences that were logged on the garda Pulse system but which had gone nowhere.

After he highlighted the alleged failure to investigate these "incidences", the records on Pulse were subsequently erased, altered or falsified.

Meanwhile, Maurice McCabe has become a lightning rod for victims of crime who feel that they have not got justice.

Still a serving sergeant in Mullingar station, his post box was said by friends to be crammed with letters and missives from well-wishers and others who hope he will help them to draw attention to concerns about their own cases.

He said he works with a "good bunch of people" most of whom are supportive. He isn't being harassed and is able to go about his duties despite the fact that his access to the Pulse system has been restricted.

He has turned down offers to appear on The Late Late Show and Prime Time, according to sources.

He's not interested in publicity – not to mention the fact that he can't give interviews under garda regulations.

Sunday Independent

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