Saturday 16 December 2017

Chain of errors fed false claims about McCabe

We heard of a catalogue of errors in the first week of the Disclosures Tribunal

Unable to explain: Rian counsellor Laura Brophy Photo: Leah Farrell/
Unable to explain: Rian counsellor Laura Brophy Photo: Leah Farrell/
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

We have had only four days of evidence at the Disclosures Tribunal - but it is already becoming difficult to catalogue all of the mistakes, errors and omissions made by various arms of the State.

The blunders outlined to date involving the HSE, Tusla and An Garda Siochana are so numerous that Mr Justice Peter Charleton's report on the tribunal's first module is likely to be very lengthy indeed.

So far, evidence of a conspiracy against Sgt Maurice McCabe has been thin on the ground. But plenty of information has emerged that portrays Ireland's child protection regime as overstretched and utterly shambolic.

A truly terrifying picture has been painted of how the "silly error" of a counsellor, compounded by organisational dysfunction, poor judgment and other mistakes, led to an innocent man having a serious sexual abuse allegation recorded against him.

The module embarked upon last Tuesday is examining the circumstances surrounding the creation of an incorrect sexual abuse report and whether it was seized upon by senior gardai to blacken Sgt McCabe's name.

The report was created at a time when he was causing a considerable headache for Garda management after blowing the whistle on penalty points abuses and other matters.

At the heart of the proceedings is Ms D, the daughter of a Garda colleague of Sgt McCabe, who will give evidence to the tribunal in due course.

In 2006, the then 15-year-old girl made an allegation of abuse against Sgt McCabe, claiming he had tickled her and "dry-humped" her during a game of hide-and-seek when she was aged six or seven.

The matter was investigated by one of Sgt McCabe's superiors, Inspector Noel Cunningham, who later became a superintendent. A file was sent to the DPP, in which Cunningham recommended no prosecution. No charges followed.

Rhona Murphy, an HSE intake social worker who had dealings with Ms D in 2005 and 2006, told the tribunal that Cunningham expressed doubts about the girl's allegations on the basis she was "spinning different stories".

The tribunal heard that Ms D's parents contacted social services as they were concerned about their daughter's behaviour. She was self-harming, running away from home and engaging in sexual activity.

Despite the seriousness of what was alleged by Ms D, no credibility assessment was carried out by the HSE.

Murphy closed her file on Ms D in October 2007 on the instruction of the child sexual abuse team after the girl stopped engaging with them. This occurred even though one supposedly crucial task had not been completed.

Murphy told the tribunal it was "fair procedure" for an alleged perpetrator to be made aware of an allegation of sexual abuse against them. Such meetings would also be arranged in the context of making a child protection risk assessment.

However, despite her recommendation that such an assessment take place, it did not happen. As the social work team in Cavan/Monaghan knew Sgt McCabe professionally, it was decided a team should be drafted in from Meath to do the task. But the Meath team declined to get involved and the matter was forgotten about.

Mary O'Reilly, the acting principal social worker for Cavan/Monaghan at the time, accepted procedures were not followed. She said guidelines in place at the time "weren't robust enough" to deal with a situation where Sgt McCabe was known to the local social work team. She also said it wasn't unusual at the time for a task to go uncompleted.

Fast forward to 2013 and Ms D, with the encouragement of her mother, made contact with Rian, an HSE counselling service operating in Cavan.

Now a college student, she sought help dealing with everyday coping difficulties and relationship problems.

At her first session with Rian counsellor Laura Brophy, Ms D spoke of the sexual abuse allegation she had previously made against Sgt McCabe, without naming him.

At a second session she named him. Brophy said she had a duty of care to report that information to HSE social services, now Tusla, so an assessment of potential risk in the community could be done.

Ms D clearly did not want any report being made. The tribunal heard of a newspaper interview she gave in which she remembered being annoyed by the suggestion her claims should be reported. "I remember thinking, stirring up s*** for what? I knew by her she was going to report it whether I wanted to or not," she was quoted as saying.

That August, Brophy made a verbal report to Briege Tinnelly in HSE social services, relaying the account given by Ms D. As a result, Tinnelly's duty team leader, Keara McGlone, created a file on Sgt McCabe.

However, Brophy then made a "catastrophic error" in a written report sent to McGlone's office. Instead of including the details alleged by Ms D, she included a much more serious allegation of digital penetration.

Somehow an allegation made by a different woman, Ms Y, against a different man, had made it into the Ms D report. Although this may have happened as a result of using a template on her PC, Brophy was unable to explain exactly how the mistake occurred.

Her report was not reviewed by her supervisor Fiona Ward or by Ms D before it was sent. The mistake was not noticed until Ms D was informed by her father in May 2014 that an incorrect HSE referral form had been by received by Bailieboro garda station.

McGlone told the tribunal she never saw the written report sent by Brophy and assumed it was added to the HSE's McCabe file by a member of her administrative staff.

She said whoever did this must have assumed the report contained the same details as Brophy's earlier verbal report.

McGlone placed a note on the McCabe file saying there was a "duty to notify gardai".

She quickly came to the view that Brophy's verbal report might have detailed the same allegations previously investigated by gardai in 2006, but wanted to be sure.

She wrote to Supt Cunningham seeking a meeting. No response ever came. McGlone admits she did not follow up with the superintendent, while the senior garda admits he never responded to her letter.

Despite her belief that the allegation was probably the same one investigated in 2006, McGlone felt the risk assessment on Sgt McCabe recommended back in 2007 still needed to be done.

However, the McCabe file did not get any further attention until April 30, 2014 as other cases took priority.

Laura Connolly, a duty social worker with the newly formed Tusla, reviewed the file that day. She told the tribunal it was her understanding that when a retrospective allegation of sexual abuse was received, gardai had to be notified even if it had already been investigated.

Although there were two contradictory accounts of the allegation on the file, Ms Connolly sent the second, more serious and completely incorrect allegation to gardai.

She said she relied on the contents of the incorrect written report, rather than the verbal one, and overlooked the fact Ms Y's name was contained in the body of the written report.

Sunday Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News