A detective has been acquitted of forging a letter from the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the investigation of a priest accused of sexual abuse.
etective Garda Catherine McGowan (48), who is based at Bray Garda Station, had 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 was alleged to have been a letter from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), dated January 14, 2009.
After a 14 day trial a jury of six men and six women took just under four hours to return unanimous verdicts of not guilty on all three counts.
The State had alleged 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.
The jury heard 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,” prosecuting counsel Alex Owens SC said. “It is a copy of an original that never existed.”
The State claimed that Gda McGowan never sent the case file to anyone including the DPP, Chief State Solicitor or her superintendent.
Patrick Marrinan SC, defending, said that exhaustive inquiries by gardaí had failed to establish any link between Gda McGowan and the priest which might provide some a motive for her to tell people in 2009 that the DPP had directed no prosecution against the cleric.
He said that there was no evidence to suggest that his client was anything other than diligent in her handling of the allegation against the priest.
“She had taken out all the investigative techniques one would expect,” he said.
Mr Marrinan described the filing system at the station as “fairly haphazard” and gave a photograph of a storeroom at the garda station to members of the jury. Mr Marrinan also said that thirty percent of files requested in a Garda Professional Standards Unit review of the station could not be found.
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”.