Monday 22 October 2018

Disclosures Tribunal: RTÉ's crime correspondent says Garda HQ had 'absolutely no influence' over his report on O'Higgins Commission

RTÉ reporter Paul Reynolds at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
RTÉ reporter Paul Reynolds at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Andrew Phelan

RTE’s crime correspondent Paul Reynolds has told the Disclosures Tribunal nobody was “pouring poison into his ear” about penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Mr Reynolds also said Garda Headquarters had “absolutely no influence” over him when he reported the findings of an investigation into garda failings following complaints by Sgt McCabe.

The RTÉ reporter denied that the coverage of the leaked report of the O’Higgins Commission’s findings was “pro-garda” and rejected that he had branded Sgt McCabe “a liar and irresponsible.”

While he did use the word “lie” in his broadcasts about a reference in the report to an “untruth" by Sgt McCabe, he said: “I think a reporter’s duty is to tell it like it is.”

Mr Reynolds has also denied he was “negatively briefed” by former garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor about Sgt McCabe.

He has been giving evidence for a second day at the Disclosures Tribunal, which is investigating an alleged smear campaign by senior gardai against Sgt McCabe.

Supt Taylor claims he negatively briefed Mr Reynolds and 10 other 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 complaint made by a woman known as Ms D, the DPP decided in 2007 there should be no charges and what was described did not amount to a crime.

Recordings of Mr Reynolds's TV and radio reports, as well as other RTE broadcasts about the O’Higgins Commission report of 2016 were played to the tribunal this morning.

Mr Reynolds had obtained a copy of the commission’s report before it was published and his reports on it were broadcast on May 9th, 2016.

He could not say who gave him the report for reasons of journalistic privilege.

One of the tribunal’s terms of reference instructs it to investigate whether the then Garda Commissioner, Ms O’Sullivan, using briefing material prepared in Garda HQ, influenced or attempted to influence the May 9, 2016 RTE broadcasts in which “Sgt McCabe was branded a liar and irresponsible.”

In the broadcasts, it was stated that the O’Higgins Commission was established by the Government to highlight flaws and failures in criminal investigations in the Cavan-Monaghan garda division in 2007 and 2008.

Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins' report had found no evidence of garda corruption but identified problems problems with garda management and resources and that the failures were at a “human level,” the broadcasts stated. It was established on foot of complaints by Sgt McCabe and found while he acted out of “genuine and legitimate concerns” and upheld some of his complaints, others were found to be “inaccurate, incorrect, overstated and unfounded.”

The RTE reports stated that the commission found Sgt McCabe had shown “courage,” was a dedicated and committed garda and performed a public service but was “prone to exaggeration.”

However, it was also noted that the commission report said that in one case, Sgt McCabe had told an “untruth”, knowing it was not true.

In a live Q&A session on the Six One TV news, Mr Reynolds stated the commission report had been critical of Sgt McCabe and that it said that he “told a lie in an internal garda report.”

In a nine o’clock news Q&A session, Mr Reynolds went on to say that while Sgt McCabe had been criticised, “his actions have also been vindicated, his courage has been applauded."

Mr Reynolds noted in the reports it was found there was not a “scintilla of evidence” to support any kind of corruption on the part of Mr Callinan and he was entitled to have his reputation vindicated.

Ms Leader put the relevant term of reference to Mr Reynolds again, that it was investigating whether Ms O'Sullivan influenced or attempted to influence the broadcasts.

“That didn’t happen,” Mr Reynolds said.

The information came from multiple copies of the final report of the O’Higgins Commission, Mr Reynolds said. Some of the material was so sensitive he had to cross reference it to make sure it was all from the final report.

Ms Leader asked him if speaking to other people in the “information gathering phase” in any way influenced what he put into his broadcasts.

He said he was “100pc certain”  it did not. His scripts showed notes about references to the sections of the O’Higgins Commission report. Where he was asked for his own assessment in live interviews, he gave what he thought was a fair assessment.

The reports were put through the “full rigour” of the RTE editing process, which went “right up to the top,” to acting Director General Kevin Bakhurst.

Whatever was published was on the basis that it was newsworthy, he said, and they were “hugely important issues in the public interest.”

Ms Leader asked if it could be suggested that a view was taken by Mr Reynolds, influenced by Garda Headquarters, that he was in some way minimising what went wrong in Cavan Monaghan and drawing attention to the exaggeration line.

“I don’t think Garda Headquarters knew what I was doing,” Mr Reynolds said.

“I think the first they heard of it was when they heard it on the news. Garda Headquarters had absolutely no influence over me.”

Mr Reynolds went through RTE’s editorial structure and said everything he did was “scrutinised.”

The tribunal saw an email then Chief News Editor Ray Burke sent him on May 7 about the forthcoming reports, suggesting some rewrites “because it is certain that you and RTE news will be subject to suspicion that we are favouring the gardai and therefore biased against McCabe.”

Mr Reynolds agreed with Ms Leader that from the begining there was a “huge amount of care” taken with the story. None of the changes were “that huge”, he said.

Another mail from Mr Reynolds had suggestions including “praise for McCabe but also the lie.”

He reiterated that there was no input from Garda HQ and he “could only report what was in the report.”

He did not accept that his reports were “in ease of Garda HQ” because RTE “repeated the positive remarks” about SgT McCabe “ad nauseam” so there could be no perception that they were being unfair or unbalanced.

Hilary McGouran, Managing Editor of TV News, had mailed Mr Reynolds on May 8, saying “it’s a tricky one so be conscious of your tone and delivery so it doesn’t sound like you agree or otherwise with the various findings. You don’t want to sound pro or anti anyone!!”

Mr Reynolds told the tribunal this was “good advice.”

In another mail, Mr Burke suggested using a lead in to a report that he thought “does not put the boot into McCabe straight away.”

Mr Reynolds said “we can’t be seen to be putting the boot into any party” and added that RTE was not making the criticisms of Sgt McCabe, they were in the Commission report.

The tribunal was shown email notes Mr Reynolds had sent himself about the story, which he said referred to him being careful that everything he said was from the Commission report.

He said he had to be careful he did not take a personal view that was not reflected in the report and he had been “warning” himself.

A note asking “why did he make those complaints?”, Mr Reynolds said things were popping into his mind and he did not know the answer because there were “question marks all over the place.”

The night before the first broadcast, he rang Sgt McCabe and left a message asking if he wanted to say anything but there was no reaction.

The next morning, the first radio report was broadcast at 7am and Mr Burke later sent an email to colleagues saying he had picked up the phone shortly after 8am and the caller said he was Sgt McCabe.

The mail stated Sgt McCabe had said he had been contacted by people who saw an RTE online report which said that the commission found he had “lied” and he said this was “shocking stuff.” Sgt McCabe said it was “amazing” Mr Reynolds had “not quoted the full context.”

Mr Burke said Sgt McCabe had said he was giving RTE an opportunity to take the report down. Mr Burke said he had replied that his understanding was the report stated Sgt McCabe uttered an “untruth.”

Mr Reynolds said it was a “big step” to accused someone of telling a lie but said he was not accusing him of this.

The O’Higgins Commision report found that Sgt McCabe had told an untruth, that he was aware it was an untruth and that he told it for a specific reason and it was found to be unacceptable, Mr Reynolds said.

“Because of those four factors I said it was a lie,” he said.

He said he spoke to Mr Burke who agreed and he looked the definition of untruth up in two dictionaries. The “first thing that came up was lie,” Mr Reynolds said.

It went right up the editorial chain to Mr Bakhurst and it was “decided that we had to say that a lie was told.”

“I felt we had a responsibility to say this,” he said. “We wrestled with it.”

Ms Leader said the commission report actually stated that Sgt McCabe said the reason “for this untruth” in relation to a case was that Sgt McCabe felt someone had been badly treated. The commission found while his reasons were commendable it was unacceptable to furnish false information in a report.

Mr Reynolds said this was Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins’ finding, “not mine.”

“I think a reporter’s duty is to tell it like it is, and very often get behind the words and explain it like it is, that is why I felt we should use the word,” he said.

Ms Leader asked him if the choice of word was influenced in any way by matters from Garda HQ or Ms O’Sullivan.

“No,” he said. “It was my decision and I was supported at the highest level in RTE because we had a duty and responsibility to tell the truth.”

The tribunal was then shown a solicitor’s letter sent on behalf of Sgt McCabe stating that he had been “grossly defamed” by RTE’s report, and that the coverage was “utterly unbalanced” and incorrect.

The letter said it appeared Mr Reynolds had taken a briefing from interested parties and this briefing was done “with a view to destroying the reputation of Sgt McCabe.”

The tribunal heard the reference to “lie” was not taken down by RTE and Mr Reynolds went on air while the issue was left to RTE’s lawyers.

Mr Reynolds said the commission report was 360 pages long and he had to give people “a flavour” of it. He tried to be as impartial, fair and honest as he could.

Mr Reynolds said he knew Sgt McCabe was deeply upset about it, as was Ms O’Sullivan, adding: “so be it.”

He said he had never said Sgt McCabe was irresponsible and he had “never branded him a liar.”

“I don’t accept that it’s pro-garda at all,” he said of the coverage, saying it was based on the commission report.

Ms Leader asked Mr Reynolds if he had covered the appearance of then Commissioner Mr Callinan at the Dail Public Accounts Committee on January 23, 2014.

He said he did, and he met Mr Callinan in the bathroom outside afterwards.

“He shook his head and he knew he shouldn’t have said the word ‘disgusting’,” Mr Reynolds said.

“I just caught his eyes, he knew he shouldn’t have done it,” he said, adding that they had no further conversation.

“Commissioner Callinan never spoke to me in any way derogatorily about Sgt Maurice McCabe, never,” he said.

The tribunal was shown Supt Taylor’s statement in which he said he was sitting in the press office on March 25, 2014 when Mr Callinan rang him and said “I’m gone” and “get it out quickly to the media before the f**kers do me. Tell Paul.” Supt Taylor stated this had meant Mr Reynolds.

Mr Reynolds said he could not comment on that but he reported on the Commissioner’s resignation.

If Supt Taylor said he called him “I accept it,” Mr Reynolds said.

It was a “lazy assumption” to say he would be soft on people but “my record speaks for itself,” he said.

“I’ll ask the hard questions when they need to be asked,” he said. He rejected that he was acting as a “media link” for the gardai.

“When Sgt McCabe was bringing his concerns to the public, my belief was his motive was genuine and legitimate,” he said.

Later, Mr Reynolds was taken through notes he took in the run up to the May broadcasts. He agreed there were references to the facts surrounding the allegation against Sgt McCabe but “I don’t see facts as negative briefing.”

He said somebody brought these facts to his attention not deliberately but in the course of a conversation about the issues surrounding policing in Baileboro.

He listened and took a note but it had no bearing on his broadcasts, he said.

The only thing he was interested in was the O’Higgins report.

He denied Ms O’Sullivan was the source of the information, or that she influenced his broadcast.

He was then cross-examined by Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe.

“I certainly wasn’t party to any negative briefing,” he told Mr McDowell. “I didn’t receive any negative briefing and I wouldn’t believe any of that stuff.”

He said at the time of notes he took in April 2016, he was seeking access to the commission report.

He said the notes were from a “wide ranging conversation” and he was “taking down bits and bobs and “not a basis for anything.”

“This could only be a conversation about what you thought would be covered in the report,” Mr McDowell said.

Mr Reynolds said it was a conversation about policing generally in Baileboro.

He would not say who the person he was speaking to was. The source for the broadcast was the O’Higgins Commission report, he repeated.

Mr McDowell asked if he was going to leave the tribunal “in the dark” about who he was speaking to.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to take it to my grave, Mr McDowell,” he replied.

Mr McDowell said whoever it was, they seemed to have “borne down” on the subject of the 2006 complaint against Sgt McCabe in the note “complaint against him - investigated locally.”

Mr Reynolds repeated that these were just facts, not negative briefing.

Mr Reynolds said he never got the impression that anyone was “pouring poison in my ear about Sgt McCabe.”

There was “no persistent, consistent, deliberate, hammering away,” giving “negative stuff” about Sgt McCabe, he said.

When it came up in conversation, he just moved on, it was not relevant, he said.

His cross-examination is due to continue tomorrow.

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