Tuesday 24 October 2017

Detective accused of forging DPP letter in connection with sexual abuse investigation

Garda Catherine McGowan (48), based at Bray Garda Station, at court where she has pleaded not guilty to one count of forgery
Pic: Courtpix
Garda Catherine McGowan (48), based at Bray Garda Station, at court where she has pleaded not guilty to one count of forgery Pic: Courtpix

Conor Gallagher

A detective has gone on trial accused of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the investigation of a priest accused of sexual abuse.

Detective Garda Catherine McGowan (48), who is based at Bray Garda Station, Co Wicklow, has pleaded not guilty to one count of forgery on January 15, 2009 at Bray Garda Station and two counts of using a false instrument at Bray Garda Station and at Harcourt Street Garda Station between June 21 and 22, 2011.

The instrument is alleged to have been a letter from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), dated January 14, 2009.

In his opening speech to the jury, prosecuting counsel Alex Owens SC said that Gda McGowan had forged the letter to “hoodwink” gardaí who were reviewing whether she had acted properly in investigating allegations of sexual abuse by a priest of a teenage girl.

The investigation of Gda McGowan’s handling of the case was prompted by the publication of the Murphy Report which investigated clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin area. The priest in Gda McGowan’s case was one of the clerics mentioned in the report.

Counsel said the jury will hear evidence of a copy of a letter, supposedly from the DPP, which directed that a prosecution of the priest would be “impossible” because of “conjecture” in the alleged victim’s statement.

“This document is not genuine, it is a bogus document,” Mr Owens said. “It is a copy of an original that never existed.”

Counsel said there will be evidence that Gda McGowan never sent the case file to anyone including the DPP, Chief State Solicitor or her superintendent. 

The first witness, Sergeant Diane Swift, told the jury that a special task force was set up in the aftermath of the Murphy Report by the garda commissioner to investigate how sex abuse cases were handled by the church and state authorities.

Sgt Swift said the unit, which was based in Harcourt Square, investigated allegations in relation to 46 priests named in the Murphy report and that she was assigned one priest who had 500 documents relating to allegations against him.

Sgt Swift said she contacted one of the alleged victims who said she was sexually abused by the priest for three years from when she was 16.

The sergeant said she contacted Gda McGowan who said she was still working on the case but “that it was going nowhere anyway.” The accused allegedly later told Sgt Swift that she believed the complainant was 18 years old at the time of the sexual encounters.

Sgt Swift said the accused told her she was “satisfied there was no cover up” in the case and that the complainant had not told anyone about the abuse at the time.

The sergeant requested the investigative file from the case and any directions that had been received from the DPP. The accused said she would get them to her and after several delays she received the documentation.

Sgt Swift told counsel that she received statements relating to the abuse case and a photocopy of a letter purporting to be from the office of the DPP.

The witness said the letter read: “Dear Sir, I (illegible) to yours. In (illegible) the statement of the complainant…could not possibly form the basis of a prosecution given that the complainant’s allegation of rape is only conjecture.”

The letter was signed by a person with the title of “professional officer”.

Sgt Swift said she put this and the other documents in a secure lockup before passing them on to the exhibits officer in the case.

The trial, which is scheduled to last two weeks, continues before Judge Mary Ellen Ring and jury of six men and six women.

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