Disclosures Tribunal: RTE crime correspondent denies 'deep prejudice' against Maurice McCabe
RTE Crime Correspondent Paul Reynolds has denied having a “deep prejudice” against garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe or that he was part of a “conspiracy” against him.
Mr Reynolds told the Disclosures Tribunal it was not true that in a series of 2016 reports he was “taking the garda line” that it was fair to “put the boot into” Sgt McCabe.
He was concluding his evidence to the tribunal today.
Whether the RTE broadcasts were influenced by Ms O’Sullivan is one of the issues being examined by the tribunal, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign by senior gardai against Sgt McCabe.
Mr Reynolds is one of eleven journalists former Garda Press Officer, Supt Dave Taylor claims to have negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe between mid-2013 and March 2014.
Supt Taylor has said 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.
The alleged briefing was that Sgt McCabe had been investigated over a historic allegation of child sexual assault. While Sgt McCabe was investigated over a complaint made by a woman known as Ms D, the DPP decided in 2007 not to prosecute and what was described by her did not amount to a crime.
Mr Reynolds has denied that he was negatively briefed by anyone and said Garda Headquarters had “absolutely no influence” over him when he reported on May 9, 2016 on the leaked findings of the O’Higgins Commission report on policing failures.
Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, put it to Mr Reynolds that when he called Sgt McCabe for a comment before those broadcasts he was “simply going through the motions” and did not intend to have any significant input from him.
Mr Reynolds denied this and said Sgt McCabe “could have said anything to me” if he had spoken to him.
Mr McDowell suggested Mr Reynolds was “pretending you were being even handed.”
“This is too serious for pretence,” he said.
RTE had a statutory responsibility to report in a fair and impartial manner and he “had to contact Sgt McCabe.”
Mr McDowell said Mr Reynolds had omitted in his reports that Sgt McCabe’s evidence was preferred over other gardai on numerous occasions in the commission report.
Mr Reynolds repeated that he had been fair and balanced, said it was a 360-page report and Mr McDowell was going through it to “cherry pick all the bits I missed.”
Mr Reynolds was shown a text from an unidentified sender to Mr Callinan two days before his retirement, stating “Reynolds would help out if an interview arose.”
This suggested he was supportive, Mr McDowell said.
Mr Reynolds said he could not be responsible for what other people said, but he would certainly have interviewed the commissioner and “would certainly have some very interesting questions.”
Mr Reynolds was then questioned by Mr McDowell about February 24, 2014 online reports in which Mr Reynolds stated that the Commissioner wrote to Sgt McCabe 14 months earlier and gave him a direction to co-operate with an internal garda enquiry into the cancellation of penalty points.
Mr McDowell said it was a “distortion” to say that Sgt McCabe had been directed to co-operate with the inquiry. The direction, Mr McDowell said, was to desist from communicating information from the garda Pulse system to third parties and if Sgt McCabe had any further concerns, they could be brought to the O’Mahony inquiry.
“I’m a journalist, I work in the English language, I don’t work in a Parliamentary version of it,” Mr Reynolds said.
“My job is to translate that into a form of words that most people would understand.”
Mr McDowell was saying it came across in the RTE reports not as an option but as a direct order, Tribunal Chairman Peter Charleton said.
Mr Reynolds said a commissioner did not give people “options” when he sent a piece of paper with the word “direction” on it.
He said what was in his report was not his opinion, he was not taking a view but giving facts.
Mr McDowell said then-Justice Minister Alan Shatter had apologised to Sgt McCabe in the Dail. Mr Reynolds said the apology was for saying that Sgt McCabe refused to co-operate with the internal garda inquiry.
“I never said he refused, I said he didn’t co-operate,” Mr Reynolds said, adding that there was a “distinction.”
Mr McDowell suggested this was untrue and indicated a “deep prejudice” against Sgt McCabe.
Mr Reynolds denied this and said he reported the facts impartially.
Mr McDowell put it to him that his reportage came after discussions with gardai of various ranks, he was “taking the garda line that the report was bad news for Sgt McCabe and it was fair to put the boot into him.”
“I reject that totally,” Mr Reynolds said. “The emails show that we were very very conscious that we needed to be fair to Sgt McCabe.”
Mr Reynolds was then cross-examined by John Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor.
He said when Mr Reynolds heard about the allegation against Sgt McCabe at the time of the penalty points issue it must have been “staggering.”
Mr Reynolds said it was not, and that he heard things like that all the time.
Mr Ferry said Mr Reynolds was “the news man in this country” and he was at the front of RTE in crime and policing. It was “completely unrealistic” that he would say “that is the end of it” after hearing the information.
He said it was “a bit like the Naked Gun movie.”
“Lieutenant Drebin is standing in front of a fireworks factory giving a press conference and saying ‘move along folks, nothing to see here’ while the entire fireworks factory is exploding in the sky behind him,” Mr Ferry said.
Mr Reynolds said there had been no prosecution, there was a clear end to it and “it is, as you say, nothing to see here.”
Mr Ferry said Supt Taylor had not been holding court in a press conference at a murder scene saying “hear ye, hear ye, I want to brief you, it was done in a very subtle way.”
Mr Reynolds said there was “no backhand talk” and Supt Taylor’s evidence did not “stack up.”
Mr Ferry said other journalists who said what they heard about the allegations against Sgt McCabe had given “riders,” such as that was the reason he fell out with management.
Mr Reynolds said he heard no riders.
In relation to Mr Reynolds’ assertion that briefing could not have happened at murder scenes, Mr Justice Charleton said he was taking it as a fact that people attending crime scenes had an opportunity to chat.
“Everything you heard about Sgt McCabe was negative, this first thing you heard about this man was that he was accused of sexual assault of a child,” Mr Ferry said later. “The seed was planted in your head.”
“It’s not true that everything I heard about Sgt McCabe was negative,” Mr Reynolds said.
Mr Reynolds told Noel Whelan BL, for the gardai, that in relation to the online story about the direction to co-operate, he made up his own mind on that and “nobody darkly spun” that interpretation to him.
Mr Whelan said it was a “conspiracy theory” to suggest Ms O’Sullivan was planning and orchestrating the RTE reports and was also maligning Mr Reynolds’ journalistic work.
Mr Reynolds said nobody influenced his reports and he was “not involved in any conspiracy, that is clearly untrue.”
The tribunal heard the O’Higgins Commission, had been investigating policing failures on foot of complaints by Sgt McCabe and its report had been delivered to the Minister for Justice in early May 2016.
RTE’s former Chief News Editor Ray Burke gave evidence that before the publication of the report of, he had asked Paul Reynolds and political staff to see if they could get their hands on it.
Mr Reynolds did and was in contact with Mr Burke before RTE ran the story.
Mr Burke told the tribunal in a statement he had been keen that “nothing in Paul’s report would be open to a charge of bias.”
He said it was not uncommon for crime reporters to be accused of being cheerleaders for the garda establishment or going “native.”
Diarmaid McGuinness SC, for the tribunal, asked who he suspected would make this accusation.
“I think it has appeared in newspapers more than once that Paul Reynolds would write stories that would favour the garda establishment,” he said.
He was reminding Mr Reynolds of his fear that he “might need to bend over backwards, as it were, to avoid appearing to favour the garda force over the whistleblower.”
Mr Burke did not read the report itself, he said, “I was relying on Paul.”
He stated that he recalled Mr Reynolds telling him on the phone that the report’s finding was that Sgt McCabe uttered an untruth, and if he could be described as having told a lie.
“I made an editorial decision to use the word lie,” Mr Burke stated.
“I said, Paul, a deliberate untruth is a lie, you can use the word lie,” he said.
Mr McGuinness asked if he was concerned that might be “tilting the balance.”
“It’s simple English,” Mr Burke replied. “It’s a plain word. Both words mean the same thing, actually.”
He told the tribunal, as Mr Reynolds had said, “our job as journalists is to deliver the story in simple English.”
He said he only “reached for his dictionary” on the Monday that RTE ran the story when he “fielded a phone call from Sgt McCabe.”
Mr McGuinness asked him about a mail he sent Mr Reynolds in which he suggested a lead-in that he thought did not “put the boot into McCabe straight away.”
Mr Burke said they worked in a newsroom and used “colloquial” terms.
He was saying that the criticism of Sgt McCabe should be further down in the report.
Mr Burke said he was never briefed by the gardai and did not know of any briefings Mr Reynolds received.
Any suggestion of Ms O’Sullivan influencing coverage was a “slander to her” and a “slander to everybody who worked with me,” he said.
“I think it’s an insult.”
In cross examination, he told Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, that he did not see the commission report himself and trusted Mr Reynolds.
“If I said, ‘Paul, show me the page where it says this’, it would be insulting to Paul and a waste of my time,” he said.
It would have been “impractical” for him to read the 360-page report himself, he said.
Mr McDowell asked why he had not been content to use the word “untruth.”
“It’s plainer English,” he said.
Mr Reynolds read the part of the report to him over the phone and Mr Burke preferred the word “lie.”
The tribunal heard earlier the reports also included the word "untruth."
Later, Garda Human Resources Director John Barrett told the tribunal he was not the "impeccable authority" Sgt McCabe claims told him that RTE's broadcasts were “planned and orchestrated" by Ms O’Sullivan.
Despite Mr Barrett's denial, Sgt McCabe had said not withdrawing his complaint, his counsel Mr McDowell said.
The hearing continues.