Tuesday 21 August 2018

INM was never 'anti' whistleblower Maurice McCabe, Disclosures Tribunal hears

Whistleblower Maurice McCabe
Whistleblower Maurice McCabe

Andrew Phelan

Independent News and Media was never “anti” penalty points whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe or “pushed the garda line” on his story, the company’s outgoing editor in chief has told the Disclosures Tribunal.

Stephen Rae said 98pc of the group’s coverage had been positive towards Sgt McCabe and INM’s relationship with the force was “for the most part adversarial.”

He said he himself had been “blacklisted” by the garda press office at one point.

Mr Rae was giving evidence to the 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 11 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 a 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.

Mr Rae, outgoing INM Editor in Chief, said he did not know Dave Taylor and never met him. Supt Taylor had attempted to contact him in May 2015 for help on a thesis he was writing but Mr Rae did not respond. This kind of request “happened all the time” to people in his position, he said.

The allegation made by Ms D was “completely new to him” when Paul Williams interviewed her in March 2014 for articles in the Irish Independent.

He said Mr Williams went to then Irish Independent news editor Kevin Doyle to say he had been approached by a representative of Ms D’s family, saying “they had a story to tell and would he visit them and talk to them.”

He told Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, he had no idea what Ms D and her parents were saying at that time. He knew they wanted to tell a story but did not know the detail.

He was told Mr Williams and a videographer travelled to a location and recorded an interview with the young woman, and was asked to view the video.

He agreed it was a potentially big story.

Mr Rae said he did ask himself “is it too good to be true” and thought “Why now, why us? Let’s check it out.”

Mr Marrinan asked if he had been suspicious he was being “fed this” by the gardai.

“As an editor you want to get to the bottom of a story and often times what’s presented to you isn’t what it appears to be so it’s important that you keep an objective outlook,” he replied.

He added that he was not suspicious of the gardai because Mr Williams had been contacted directly by the family.

Mr Marrinan said the tribunal had a statement from then-Irish Independent Editor Claire Grady in which she said she was suspicious “that it had emanated from An Garda Siochana.”

Mr Rae said she would have been “rightly skeptical.”

A number of meetings were held, the matter was considered closely and it was decided to run the story with reference to the investigation and its adequacy, without naming Sgt McCabe.

It surprised him to hear that word about Mr Williams upcoming story had “filtered out” of INM.

A suggestion had been made that INM was anti-Sgt McCabe and was pushing the garda line in relation to the story, Mr Marrinan said.

“That is completely untrue,” Mr Rae said. He had oversight of four national papers and 98pc of the content carried was “pro Sgt McCabe,” he said.

When he learned of Supt Taylor's claims about briefing journalists he was “probably was surprised”, he said.

He had not heard anything indicating that Supt Taylor was “pushing a particular line” with journalists or editors in INM.

Mr Rae told Mark Harty SC, for journalist Gemma O’Doherty, in cross examination, that he had been editor of the Garda Review from 1987 to 1994, before he became security correspondent with the Herald, and editor of the Irish Independent in 2012.

Mr Harty said Mr Rae would have built up relationships with members of the garda, to which he replied that he had “sources” and that he had also reported on police corruption.

He was asked about Ms O’Doherty’s visit to the home of then-Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013, when Ms O’Doherty was an Irish Independent staff journalist. She was investigating Mr Callinan having his penalty points quashed.

He said he was told about this the following morning, that she had gone there at 10pm. He was probably told by Managing Editor Michael Denieffe.

Mr Harty said Ms O’Doherty’s evidence was this happened earlier in the evening.

Mr Rae replied that he had an email from Security Editor Tom Brady saying he took a call from a senior garda at 10.15pm, that Ms O’Doherty had been at the house 15 minutes earlier.

Mr Harty said INM’s then Head of News Ian Mallon had said he was of the view Ms O’Doherty was still at the house when he called her.

Mr Rae said he did not know the sequence. He formed the view that going unannounced to anyone’s house at 10pm was “not professional” and not the proper way to do things. “Somebody in the building” at INM should have known what Ms O’Doherty was doing, he said. There was a hierarchical editorial structure,  process to follow and what she did was outside that.

Mr Callinan’s wife had been distressed.

Mr Harty said Ms O’Doherty’s evidence was that she was simply checking that she had the right address.

Mr Rae said it was a “good story” and the Irish Independent ran it on its front page a week later, when it got “good traction.”

Mr Harty asked him about a subsequent visit by Mr Denieffe and another member of the editorial team to meet garda management at Harcourt Street.

He asked why they had gone “cap in hand” to an assistant garda commissioner to apologise.

Mr Rae said it was not an apology but a “courtesy call.”

Mr Harty said Ms O’Doherty was later given “her marching papers” after 17 years in INM.

Mr Rae said INM had been going through a “pretty tricky time” and there was a round of redundancies in an attempt to tackle the cost base. Of 43 redundancies, 29 were in editorial and HR came to him after doing an analysis of who should be made redundant.

Mr Rae was then cross-examined by Darren Lehane BL, for former Sunday Independent Editor Anne Harris, who had previously denied a “grudge” was behind claims she made about Ian Mallon and Irish Independent editor Fionnán Sheahan.

Mr Rae agreed that after Ms Harris left INM, he had suggested to her she might like consultancy work for the company.

Rossa Fanning SC, for INM, then asked for e-mails from Mr Rae to Ms O’Doherty to be shown to the tribunal.

In one, after her visit to Mr Callinan’s house in April 2013, he set out “guidelines” which contrasted with a suggestion of the newspaper “coming down on her like a tonne of bricks.”

In another mail that April, Mr Rae told Ms O’Doherty: “just to reiterate, it’s a cracking yarn.”

Mr Rae told the tribunal at INM, “we had for the most part an adversarial relationship with An Garda Siochana” and not a week went by without a complaint from the force.

“Our job was to report objectively, dispassionately and disinterestedly on current affairs and news,” Mr Rae said, adding that he himself was blacklisted by the garda press office on one occasion.

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