Thursday 18 December 2014

How tapes became a full-blown scandal

Shane Phelan reveals how this major garda crisis unfolded after alarm bells started to ring last year

Published 27/03/2014 | 02:30

Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder...Undated handout photo of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, who was murdered in Ireland 14 years ago. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 24, 2010. Ian Bailey will appear at the High Court in Dublin today in connection with the death in west Cork of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, 39. See PA story IRISH France. Photo credit should read: Handout/PA Wire ...A
Sophie Toscan du Plantier

*SPRING - SUMMER 2013

The genesis for the uncovering of the garda tapes scandal can be traced back to February of last year.

Lawyers acting for Ian Bailey, the self-confessed suspect in the murder of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier, and his partner Jules Thomas lodged a formal application for the discovery of records held by the gardai.

Both are taking civil actions against the State, seeking damages over alleged wrongful arrest and personal injuries.

Mr Bailey has always professed his innocence and claims gardai tried to frame him.

The High Court granted orders requiring the State to hand over a wide range of records sought by Mr Bailey in May. Lawyers for the State said it could take up to three months to examine the records.

In July, a judge gave the State more time to get the material together and a deadline of September 30 was set. However, the deadline came and went without the material being supplied.

Q AUTUMN 2013

Sources say "alarm bells" started to ring among gardai sifting through the records as they uncovered phone call recordings potentially linked to the Toscan du Plantier case.

By November, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had been briefed about the material.

He contacted the Attorney General, Maire Whelan, and a working group was established to deal with the issue. Mr Callinan also contacted the Data Protection Commissioner, Billy Hawkes, to seek his advice.

The commissioner issued an order that the practice of recording calls was to immediately stop.

Ms Whelan, who sits at Cabinet, did not brief government ministers about the developments.

By late November, the pressure on the State intensified as Mr Bailey's legal team brought a motion against the State for failing to comply.

At this point the first public disclosure of the existence of "phone traffic" in the Toscan du Plantier case was made.

State lawyers told the High Court there had been a "fresh and unexpected discovery" during the course of a trawl through 16,000 records.

They said the phone traffic was in an old electronic format, which garda technical experts had difficulty "unscrambling" because the technology it was held in was obsolete and fragile.

However, the disclosure made by the lawyers was quite vague.

Mr Justice John Hedigan gave the State an additional four months to unscramble the data, setting a new discovery deadline of March 25, 2014.

Q EARLY MARCH 2014

In late February, Department of Justice officials were made aware by Mr Callinan's office and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, Eileen Creedon, of the existence of the recordings.

On March 10, Mr Callinan wrote to the department with further details. The letter did not go to Mr Shatter and he was not informed about it, the minister had told the Dail.

The next day a follow-up meeting was held involving Mr Callinan, Ms Whelan and a department representative.

Mr Shatter told the Dail this meeting involved a discussion about "ongoing legal consultation in relation to the civil proceedings". However, he was not present and was not briefed about it.

The Justice Minister flew to Mexico on March 15 to represent the country on St Patrick's Day. He says the matter was not communicated to him during the trip. While he was away, Garda Headquarters copied the Department of Justice with correspondence between the force and Ms Whelan and Mr Hawkes. The correspondence was not shown to Mr Shatter at this point, he says. Around this time, 12 boxes of material were delivered by gardai to Mr Bailey's solicitor. However, the delivery did not include copies of any phone recordings.

Q LATE MARCH 2014

Mr Shatter returned from Mexico on March 21 and faced into a full-scale political crisis.

While he was away his cabinet colleague Leo Varadkar said Mr Callinan should withdraw comments made in January that the actions of two garda whistleblowers were "disgusting".

The issue divided the Cabinet, with four Labour ministers, including Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, speaking out in agreement with Mr Varadkar; other Fine Gael ministers stayed silent.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged his ministers to deal with the issue at a cabinet meeting on March 25.

But before the meeting, Mr Kenny phoned the Attorney General. The reason for the call to Ms Whelan last Sunday morning is unknown, but he frequently rings her to discuss legal issues affecting the Government. She informed him there was a matter that needed to be discussed.

That evening they met, and she informed him of the existence of 2,500 telephone tape recordings made up to 2008 in garda stations, and of her fears that this discovery could have implications for cases already dealt with in the courts and future prosecutions.

On Monday around 6pm, Mr Shatter was briefed by his officials on the tapes issue. He then met with Mr Kenny and Ms Whelan to discuss the issue.

That night, Mr Kenny sent Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell to visit Mr Callinan at his home. Mr Purcell told him there had been developments on the tapes issue, and that he didn't know if Mr Callinan would survive beyond the following day's cabinet meeting if this issue was to break on top of the whistle-blower controversy. He asked Mr Callinan to "sleep on it".

Mr Callinan spoke to Mr Purcell the following morning. It was indicated to him that the situation had deteriorated overnight. Mr Callinan went to Garda Headquarters where he told colleagues he was retiring.

Mr Kenny briefed the Cabinet on the developments and announced that a commission of investigation would be set up. The Cabinet approved the appointment of Deputy Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan as interim Commissioner.

Mr Shatter says he was only given a copy of the March 10 letter from Mr Callinan at this point. Yesterday, Mr Shatter made a number of statements in the Dail, denying he had any knowledge of the phone tapes controversy until the previous day. He also apologised to the garda whistleblowers for claiming they had not co-operated with an internal garda inquiry.

Irish Independent

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