Tuesday 24 April 2018

Charleton Tribunal: HSE official did not believe gardaí acted improperly over McCabe report

Fiona Ward at the The Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin.
Fiona Ward at the The Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin.
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A HSE official said she did not believe gardaí sought to make improper use of an incorrect report containing a child sex abuse allegation against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Fiona Ward, a director of counselling at HSE’s Rian counselling service, said she believed gardaí were concerned about establishing how the error occurred and whether the case involved was a new one or one which had previously been investigated.

She told the Disclosures Tribunal she never got any impression that gardaí engaged in anything improper when efforts were made by the the counselling service to retrieve the incorrect report.

Ms Ward was the line manager for counsellor Laura Brophy, whose mistake led to an incorrect allegation of abuse being recorded against Sgt McCabe.

The tribunal has already heard how Ms Brophy sent a report to HSE social services in August 2013 after providing counselling services to a woman known as Ms D.

During those sessions, Ms D told Ms Brophy she was “dry humped” by Sgt McCabe during a game of hide and seek when she was aged six or seven.

The matter was previously reported to gardaí but the DPP directed there be no prosecution.

In compiling her report for HSE social services, Ms Brophy made a mistake and included details relating to another woman, Ms Y, who alleged she was digitally penetrated, both vaginally and anally, by another individual.

Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins
Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins

Ms Brophy only became aware of the error after Ms D contacted her in May 2014 to say the incorrect report had been received by gardaí in Bailieborough, Co Cavan.

The tribunal is investigating how the incorrect report was made and whether it was subsequently used by senior gardaí to smear Sgt McCabe.

Ms Ward told the tribunal about efforts made by Ms Brophy and herself to retrieve the incorrect report from gardaí.

She drafted a letter to Chief Superintendent James Sheridan requesting that all copies of the incorrect report be returned.

A similar letter was also sent to Eileen Argue, the head of social services in Cavan.

While HSE social services returned the report, Chief Supt Sheridan wrote back seeking clarification of a number of matters.

He asked if the report related to an allegation previously investigated by gardaí in 2006 or if it was a new allegation which required garda investigation.

He also sought clarification of how the error occurred.

Ms Ward replied that she understood the client, Ms D, had previously made a report that was investigated, but the information in the report now in the hands of gardaí related to a different client and a different alleged perpetrator.

Her letter also said the error was brought to Ms Brophy’s attention by Ms D, but did not provide further details of how the error occurred.

The letter did not satisfy Chief Supt Sheridan and he instructed Inspector Pat O’Connell to contact Ms Ward on his behalf seeking further clarification on June 24, 2014.

Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, put it to Ms Ward that she had been “less than 100pc helpful in her response” to the Chief Supt.

“It left him completely in the dark as to what happened,” he said.

Mr McDowell said Ms Ward “deliberately gave him no information as to how the error took place” and asked if she had been trying to protect someone.

Ms Ward said she could not recall why she didn’t respond in more detail, but denied she had been trying to protect anyone.

“I don’t think I was in any way intending to be evasive,” she said.

Mr McDowell said that Sgt McCabe was the victim of a catastrophic mistake and asked Ms Ward if she accepted the gravity of the error.

He said Sgt McCabe's reputation was being “privately shredded”.

Ms Ward said she accepted the gravity of the error and apologised for what occurred.

The tribunal heard that after Insp O’Connell sought further clarification, Ms Ward told him in a phone conversation that the mistake was “typographical” and “a cut and paste” error.

She made a note that Insp O’Connell told her the incorrect report had been sent to the Assistant Commissioner in Sligo and clarification was needed before it could be returned.

Under examination from Pat Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, she accepted the phrase “cut and paste” was not accurate.

She said she knew Sgt McCabe had been the subject of media reports at the time in relation to his whistleblowing activity.

Asked if she was suspicious that it was “a little bit coincidental” that the error occurred around this time, she said she had no suspicions.

“I wouldn’t have had any concern that there was any intention on her [Ms Brophy’s] behalf in relation to the error,” she added.

Asked by Mr Marrinan if she had any sense gardaí were “seeking to open an old wound”, she said her impression was that gardaí were seeking to clarify if this was a new report or not.

She said she got no impression gardaí were seeking to put the material to improper use.

Asked if there was any suggestion her department had sought to cover the matter up, she replied: “Absolutely not”.

Earlier, Mr Marrinan said there was a catalogue of errors when the HSE counselling service tried to correct and retrieve the incorrect child sexual abuse allegation, with different agencies speaking at cross purposes.

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