Wednesday 21 November 2018

Former Garda Press Officer withdraws a number of allegations against Nóirín O’Sullivan, tribunal hears

Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan
Former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A number of serious allegations against former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan have been withdrawn by former Garda Press Officer Supt Dave Taylor, the Disclosures Tribunal has heard.

Ms O’Sullivan said she “took no comfort” that the claims, which contributed to her resignation as commissioner, were not being stood over by Supt Taylor.

She said her resignation in September 2017 was for the wellbeing of her family and due to the impact on the force of the controversy surrounding allegations against her.

This morning, tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton put a number of questions to Supt Taylor’s counsel, Michael O’Higgins SC.

The judge pointed out that after Supt Taylor was investigated and arrested over the unauthorised disclosure of information to journalists, he sought to halt the probe by seeking a judicial review in the High Court.

In those proceedings he alleged, among other things, that his treatment by the investigating officer was “tactless, unnecessarily autocratic and oppressive”.

The tribunal has previously heard the judicial review did not go anywhere, and ultimately the DPP decided there was not evidence sufficient to secure a conviction against Supt Taylor.

Mr Justice Charleton asked if Mr Taylor was no longer alleging that Ms O’Sullivan caused someone to interfere with his phone, no longer alleging that she had appointed her husband to the investigation to ensure a charge, and was no longer alleging that she had a role in the manner he was treated when he was arrested.

The judge said that if Supt Taylor was now saying he had blamed Ms O’Sullivan wrongly for the investigation into him, this may have an impact on the view he takes of the superintendent’s central allegations.

Mr O’Higgins, in response, put it to Ms O’Sullivan that his client was not saying she had any role in directing or influencing the criminal investigation.

Ms O’Sullivan responded that she had “no hand, act or part” in that investigation.

Supt Taylor is still standing over his central claim that he was ordered by then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013 to negatively brief journalists about penalty points whistleblower Maurice McCabe, and that Ms O’Sullivan, who was deputy commissioner at the time, knew about this.

The claims have been denied by Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan.

Mr Justice Charleton asked Ms O’Sullivan for her views on the relationship between Supt Taylor and Mr Callinan.

She said they had a close working relationship, but she did not think they had a personal relationship.

Ms O’Sullivan said her observation was that Supt Taylor “insinuated himself around Commissioner Callinan” and that her predecessor had grown to depend on him.

She said she felt Supt Taylor was undermining both her and Garda director of communications Andrew McLindon.

She said she sensed division and that the Garda Press Office wasn’t working well together.

Pressed further on this, Ms O’Sullivan said she didn’t like Supt Taylor’s style.

“I can’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t comfortable in his presence,” she said.

Ms O’Sullivan went on to say: “He didn’t have my back.”

She added: “I said for these reasons I could not have him working with me as press officer.”

She agreed with the judge that she did not want Supt Taylor working around her at Garda headquarters.

The superintendent was transferred to the Garda traffic bureau at Dublin Castle in June 2014.

Former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris told the tribunal that the newspaper published a story by journalist Philip Ryan on May 5, 2013.

This story was to the effect that some of the people who had penalty points quashed had gone on to be involved in fatal accidents.

Ms Harris said at the next news conference, where journalists generally pitch stories and discuss story ideas, a freelance journalist told her she didn’t know “the whole story” about Sgt McCabe.

She said the gist of what the journalist told her was that a colleague of Sgt McCabe had been driving along with his daughter when the girl saw Sgt McCabe and said: “Daddy, Daddy. That’s the man.”

The story relayed to her was that something had happened in 2006, but she said the inference was vague.

“That was the first I heard of it,” said Ms Harris.

She said she decided to find out if there was anything in what the journalist was saying and that she used her own sources.

Ms Harris said she discovered that the DPP had looked into it and found it was groundless.

She said this story was raised with her by the journalist on a second occasion, but she “shut it down”.

Ms Harris said she didn’t think the purpose was to have a story published, but was “intended as a chilling thing”.

Ms Harris said that in June 2013 editorial structures were changed in Independent News & Media (INM) titles.

Up to that point she reported to the chief executive, but under a new structure she had to report to an editor-in-chief, Stephen Rae, and had to deal with a number of group editors.

She said this was difficult in the beginning, but she grew to like the group editors and worked with them.

Ms Harris told the tribunal that following a news conference where a potential story about matters being raised by Sgt McCabe was discussed, then group political editor Fionnán Sheahan turned back into the room and told her: “He’s a paedophile. McCabe is a paedophile.”

Ms Harris also alleged that on another occasion, then group news editor Ian Mallon said she needed to bear in mind there was more to Sgt McCabe than met the eye. “He said, you know, about McCabe and children,” Ms Harris said.

Both men deny making the remarks.

The former Sunday Independent editor was unable to say when the alleged conversations occurred, but thought the one with Mr Sheahan was in second half of September 2014, while the one with Mr Mallon was some time after Mr Williams’ Ms D article appeared in April 2014.

Ms Harris said she was “shocked” by Mr Sheahan’s comments as it was never said like that to her before. She thought he believed what he was stating was a fact as Mr Sheahan was not someone who engaged in gossip.

However, she never made a note of the alleged conversation with Mr Sheahan and never mentioned it to anyone.

Mr Sheahan is now the editor of the Irish Independent, while Mr Mallon is now a UEFA communications consultant.

Ms Harris said she thought it was “a gesture of collegiality” that Mr Sheahan told her this, as if he believed she did not know the score and needed to be tipped off.

She said she did not ask him anything after the remark as she was “taken aback”.

Counsel for INM, Rossa Fanning SC, said Mr Sheahan’s position was that he never had the conversation with her, was not prone to peddling rumours, had never formed the view Sgt McCabe was a paedophile, and had never investigated whether he was or not.

He said Mr Sheahan had not written or commissioned a single article that was critical of Sgt McCabe.

Mr Fanning said Mr Sheahan would say he had a very strained relationship with Ms Harris and that she had made the statement to damage him.

Ms Harris said she had not had a strained relationship with Mr Sheahan in 2014 and had no desire to damage his reputation.

The barrister put it to her that she was an external critic of INM and was happy to make the statement to the tribunal if it had negative consequences for senior editorial executives.

Mr Fanning also suggested to Ms Harris that her evidence was tainted by an improper motive that she was bitter and bore a grudge towards Mr Sheahan and her former employer, INM. Ms Harris denied this.

The barrister read from a statement given by Mr Mallon, in which he said Ms Harris was implying he was part of a culture of muttering or careless talk about Sgt McCabe.

“Mr Mallon says this is entirely untrue,” said Mr Fanning.

The barrister said Mr Mallon’s position was there was no muttering campaign in INM, but there was an allegation of child sexual abuse that was well known because Mr Williams had written an article about it.

“He says in his statement that your evidence that you were involved in shutting down a whispering campaign is untrue because, firstly, there was no whispering campaign. It was openly known and spoken about. And secondly, he never saw or heard any instance of you shutting it down,” said Mr Fanning.

Ms Harris said the “shutting down” had occurred prior to the advent of the group structure and Mr Mallon would not have been present at those meetings.

She said she thought it astonishing Mr Mallon was saying discussion of the matter was not rumour and innuendo, but quite explicit.

Questioned by her own counsel, Darren Lehane BL, Ms Fanning agreed she did not have a “personal vendetta” against Mr Sheahan and Mr Mallon.

Mr Sheahan and Mr Mallon are due to give evidence in the coming weeks.

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