Sunday 26 May 2019

Disclosures Tribunal: Former INM head of news denies any 'muttering campaign' against Maurice McCabe

Former INM head of news Ian Mallon
Former INM head of news Ian Mallon
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A FORMER INM head of news has said there was never any “silent muttering campaign” in the organisation about penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Ian Mallon denied that he told the then-Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris in 2014 that there was more to the garda sergeant than met the eye and “you know about McCabe and children.”

Mr Mallon also denied the words “kiddie fiddler” or “paedophile” were ever used in his presence.

He said there were no “mutterings” about Sgt McCabe and at the time the story would have been “openly discussed” in the newsroom.

He was giving evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign by senior gardai against Sgt McCabe.

Former Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor claims he negatively briefed journalists that Sgt McCabe had been investigated over a historic allegation of child sexual assault.

He alleges he was ordered to do so in mid-2013 by then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and with the knowledge of then Deputy Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan. They both deny his allegations.

While Sgt McCabe was investigated over an allegation made by a woman known as Ms D, the DPP decided in 2007 there should be no charges and what was described in the complaint did not amount to a crime.

Mr Mallon said today he did not know the exact date when he first heard the allegations about Sgt McCabe, but it was via an article by journalist Paul Williams wrote in 2014.

Mr Williams interviewed Ms D, who was claiming garda impropriety in the investigation into her complaint, he recalled.

In his statement to the tribunal, he had said his first knowledge of the complaint concerning Sgt McCabe was in March 2014.

Mr Williams had approached the Irish Independent’s then-news editor Kevin Doyle to arrange an interview with the young woman.

Mr Mallon’s role, he told Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal, was that he compiled a news list of stories, it was decided where stories went in the group and then it was up to individual editors to decide whether to run a story.

Anne Harris was editor of the Sunday Independent and Claire Grady was Irish Independent editor, he said.

He would not influence editors in any way. He said he did not recall being in any meetings about Mr Williams’ story or seeing the video of the interview, but if others said he did, that was “fine.”

When Mr Williams’ story was published, it did not identify Sgt McCabe.

In his statement, Mr Mallon said that after that story was published, nearly every journalist working in Independent Newspapers was aware of Sgt McCabe’s identity, knew there was an old allegation of sexual assault on a child and that the DPP had ruled there was no case to answer.

Mr Mallon agreed with Ms Leader that it was a “big story” and said like any number of stories it would have been openly discussed in the newsroom.

He agreed that the story could have been “explosive” but said Sgt McCabe was not named in the published article.

Mr Mallon said he “utterly rejected” a claim by Ms Harris, saying she had rejected it herself in the witness stand as being “wrong.”

He objected to her use of the term “mutterings.”

In his statement, he said it was “simply nonsense and unrealistic for Ms Harris to suggest that there was a silent muttering campaign ongoing where the allegation was known to all.”

In cross-examination, Mr Mallon told Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, he had no “elevated interest” in whether the story would stand up or not.

Mr Mallon said he had the same interest in it as he had in any “serious, heavy, public interest story.”

He said he formed no view of whether the complaint in the story was true or false and it was “far fetched” to suggest one would “suddenly jump to a conclusion.”

Mr Mallon said Ms Harris had said in her first statement that he had been part of a whispering campaign, in her second she had said his involvement had been “disproportionate” and thirdly she said with regards to Mr Mallon she was wrong.

She then “hid under a cloak of freedom of speech,” he said.

“I have no recollection of a having conversation with her about Sgt McCabe ever,” Mr Mallon said.

He was then questioned by Darren Lehane BL, for Ms Harris.

“There was no whispering or murmuring about any stories in my view, when I was present,” Mr Mallon said.

Mr Lehane asked him if the words “kiddie fiddler” were ever used.

Mr Mallon said it was not a phrase he liked, he never used it and it was never used in front of him.

Neither was the word “paedophile” used in front of him, he said.

Tribunal Chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton remarked that the word “paedophile” carried a technical meaning.

Ms Harris said Mr Mallon had said to her “you know about McCabe and children,” Mr Lehane said.

Mr Mallon said this was “absolutely incorrect, and “Ms Harris had  “conceded she got it wrong about me.”

Ms Harris retired from INM in 2014. Mr Mallon is now a Uefa communications consultant.

Mr Mallon’s cross examination continues tomorrow.

Earlier, Dearbhail McDonald, INM group business editor and then-legal affairs correspondent, said she was asked to “stress test” the draft of the article written by Mr Williams before publication in March 2014.

The article was following the interview he carried out with Ms D, and Ms McDonald was asked for her advice on whether it was “legally and factually robust.” She also watched the video of the interview.

She was asked by then Group Editor Stephen Rae and reported back to him and Ian Mallon on March 14, 2014, outlining her observations and concerns. Her advice was against publishing, she said. Ms McDonald said she herself was not briefed at all by or on behalf of anyone in the gardai, including Supt Taylor.

In cross-examination, she told John Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor she had no other dealings with the story and never spoke to Mr Williams about it.

She told Fionan O’Muircheartaigh, for journalist Alison O’Reilly, that she saw the video with Mr Rae and Mr Mallon.

Micheal P. O'Higgins SC, for the gardai, put it to her that by her participation, she was party to a smear.

“I absolutely and utterly reject that,” saying the advice and the role that she played went to ensure that Sgt McCabe’s reputation was protected.

Ms McDonald said there were material changes between the draft she saw and the article that was ultimately published.

Earlier, Irish Examiner Political Editor Daniel McConnell he could not confirm or deny if the former Garda Press Officer Supt David Taylor had negatively briefed him about Sgt McCabe.

He said his views on journalistic privilege and the protection of sources were similar to his colleague Cormac O'Keeffe, who already gave evidence.

He said he was protecting "the principle" and his position as a journalist, dealing with confidential information.

"I'm not somebody who will sing like a canary, I am someone who will protect my sources," he said.

Mr McConnell said he first became aware of the 'Ms D' allegation against Sgt McCabe after the publication of articles by Paul Williams in the Irish Independent in April 2014.

Before that, in January that year, he had heard what he described as "journalistic chatter" in relation to Sgt McCabe in the run up to the Public Accounts Committee meeting.

He said the chatter was vague, but attacked the credibility of Sgt McCabe.

Tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, said he was taking it that it could not possibly be the case that Mr McConnell was negatively briefed by Supt Taylor.

Mr McConnell repeated that he could not confirm or deny that.

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