Wednesday 23 January 2019

Journalist who sought interview with Ms D denies being negatively briefed about Maurice McCabe - Disclosures Tribunal

Journalist Debbie McCann
Journalist Debbie McCann
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A journalist who attempted to interview a woman who made a sexual assault allegation against Sgt Maurice McCabe has denied being negatively briefed by any garda about the whistleblower.

Irish Mail on Sunday crime correspondent Debbie McCann told the Disclosures Tribunal no senior member of the force maligned Sgt McCabe to her.

Her testimony is at odds with that of her colleague Alison O’Reilly, who gave evidence to the tribunal that Ms McCann told her the sources of her information about the sexual assault allegation included former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and former Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor.

Ms O’Sullivan has denied this, but Supt Taylor has named Ms McCann as one of eleven journalists he says he negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe.

The tribunal is investigating claims by Supt Taylor that he was ordered to brief against Sgt McCabe by former commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013, and that this was done with the knowledge of Ms O’Sullivan, who was deputy commissioner at the time. Both deny Supt Taylor’s allegations.

Responding to questions from tribunal counsel Patrick Marrinan SC, Ms McCann said she had “no evidence of an orchestrated campaign by senior Garda management”.

Pressed further on this, she said: “I wasn’t briefed negatively by any member of An Garda Síochána in relation to Sgt McCabe.”

The tribunal heard it was the first time she had told this to the tribunal, which had been corresponding with her newspaper since February 2017.

A letter to the tribunal from a lawyer representing her and other Mail newspaper group journalists said they were concerned that if they answered certain questions they would breach their obligation of confidence towards sources of information or, at the very least, allow for the opening of lines of inquiry that would lead to the identification of sources.

Ms McCann denied there had been “a blanket refusal” to answer questions.

She said she had answered questions about a series of text messages when asked by tribunal investigators.

Ms McCann told the tribunal she heard “murmurings” in February 2014 about something in Sgt McCabe’s past.

Asked if she contacted Supt Taylor to check this out, Ms McCann said she didn’t feel she could answer the question “for source protection purposes”.

She pointed out, however, that she had earlier said no member of the force had maligned Sgt McCabe to her.

Ms McCann went on to say that it was not the sort of information a journalist would expect the Garda press officer to confirm.

She said she made inquiries herself to establish what the allegation was and if there was any substance to it.

The journalist said that when she travelled up to Cavan in an attempt to interview the complainant, a woman known as Ms D, she understood that there was a historic allegation of “inappropriate touching” and that the DPP had ruled there should be no prosecution.

Ms McCann said she thought she suggested to her news editor Robert Cox that she should look at the allegations in a bit more detail.

The tribunal has previously heard that when she went to the D household she only had a brief conversation with Ms D’s mother and did not secure any interview.

Mr Marrinan put it to Ms McCann that Supt Taylor had asserted she phoned him before she travelled to the D home.

“Whether or not this was discussed, I don’t feel comfortable revealing that,” said Ms McCann.

Pressed on this, she said she didn’t feel she could answer the question “for source protection”.

At this point tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton intervened and reminded Ms McCann she had sworn an oath and there was an obligation to tell the truth and not to pick and choose words.

Ms McCann reiterated: “I am telling you I have no evidence of any smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.”

However, she was pressed again by Mr Justice Charleton.

“We have two commissioners of An Garda Síochána against whom appalling things have been said by a person you were in contact with. They actually have rights as well,” the judge said.

“The purpose of this tribunal is to see what actually happened.”

Mr Justice Charleton went on to say that in the event she did ring Supt Taylor and he told her not to bother wasting her time going up to Cavan as the matter was in the past and the DPP had ruled on it, then he would need to know this.

“I don’t believe that has anything to do with source protection,” the judge said.

“It is to do with actually answering questions the people of Ireland have entrusted me to come up with some kind of an answer to.”

“You might want to think about this and in that regard I am going to break for lunch.”

After the tribunal resumed, Mr Marrinan put to Ms McCann a number of specific allegations made by Ms O’Reilly.

The barrister read from Ms O’Reilly’s statement, which claimed Ms McCann described Sgt McCabe as “a child abuser”. He asked if she had said this.

“Absolutely not,” replied Ms McCann.

She went on to say that it would have been “a bit of a leap” to go from hearing an allegation to calling Sgt McCabe a child abuser.

Mr Marrinan said Ms O’Reilly claimed Ms McCann told her all of the gardaí knew Sgt McCabe was involved in abusing a girl who was now an adult and that there had been a cover up of it by gardaí.

Ms McCann said she hadn’t said this.

“There was no mention of a cover up. I knew nothing of a cover up and still don’t,” she said.

Ms McCann said Ms O’Reilly had given the tribunal the sense that there was a lot of discussion between them on the issue, but she insisted there wasn’t.

According to Ms O’Reilly’s statement, Ms McCann told her “all the gardaí knew” Sgt McCabe was an abuser and that this had been confirmed by her father, a now retired senior garda.

When this was put to her, Ms McCann said: “I completely refute that.”

She said she and her father would have discussed issues that were topical but there was a professional boundary they did not cross.

She also said she would not have discussed with him the fact she was travelling to Cavan seeking to interview Ms D.

Asked by Mr Marrinan if she had been talking up her sources to Ms O’Reilly, Ms McCann replied: “I am certainly not a braggart and I don’t go around making up things.”

Mr Marrinan said Ms O’Reilly alleged Ms McCann had said on several occasions that Sgt McCabe was a paedophile.

He also said Ms O’Reilly alleged Ms McCann had said Supt Taylor told her Ms D was “in a bad way”.

“That is not true,” said Ms McCann.

“I am telling you she did not hear that from me.”

Ms McCann also denied using the words “paedo” in relation to Sgt McCabe.

She said it was absolutely true they had discussed the allegation, but insisted this was language she would not use.

She also denied confirming to Ms O’Reilly that Ms O’Sullivan was a source of her information in relation to Sgt McCabe.

“That didn’t happen. First of all I have told the tribunal that there was no communication between me and Nóirín O’Sullivan during that period and secondly because I am not in the habit of revealing my sources.”

The tribunal continues.

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