Monday 11 November 2019

O’Sullivan feared phones were 'smoking gun' linking her to smear campaign - Disclosures Tribunal hears

Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan
Former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor claimed his phones were seized because former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan wanted to get her hands on the “smoking gun” linking her to an alleged smear campaign against whistleblower Maurice McCabe, the Disclosures Tribunal has heard.

Journalist Michael Clifford said Supt Taylor made the allegation to him in 2016, while the superintendent was suspended from duty.

The tribunal is investigating claims made by Supt Taylor that he was ordered in 2013 by then-commissioner Martin Callinan to negatively brief journalists that Sgt McCabe had been investigated over a child sexual assault allegation.

Supt Taylor has alleged the smear campaign was conducted with the knowledge of Mr Callinan’s then deputy Ms O’Sullivan.

The accusations are denied by Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan, who succeeded Mr Callinan as commissioner in March 2014.

While Sgt McCabe was the subject of an investigation, the DPP decided in 2007 he should not face charges as no crime was described.

Mr Clifford, an Irish Examiner journalist who has written a book about Sgt McCabe, said that in June 2016 he received a call from Supt Taylor “out of the blue” after he had made reference to the superintendent in a newspaper article.

He said Supt Taylor thanked him for the mention and that during the conversation the former Garda press officer made comments about Ms O’Sullivan, saying she wasn’t very good for the force.

Mr Clifford said he later met Supt Taylor at the superintendent’s home in late August or early September of that year.

At the time Supt Taylor was suspended and under investigation for the alleged unauthorised disclosure of information to journalists. The inquiry did not result in charges and Supt Taylor was later reinstated to his job with the Garda traffic bureau.

Mr Clifford said he could not remember whether he or Supt Taylor had arranged the meeting, but he said the superintendent spoke about his time in the Garda press office between 2012 and 2014.

The journalist said Supt Taylor told him Mr Callinan would send him a text in relation to Sgt McCabe and he would pass this on to the media. He couldn’t recollect if Supt Taylor said the information in the texts was passed on verbally or if the texts themselves were forwarded.

The tribunal has previously heard evidence contradicting this from Supt Taylor.

He claims that text messages were not circulated to journalists as part of the smear campaign. His evidence is that the only role texts played was that he used them to inform Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan when an item about Sgt McCabe appeared in the media.

Mr Clifford said Supt Taylor suggested he did not have a great relationship with Ms O’Sullivan and that he and Mr Callinan had been suspicious she was leaking to the media.

He said that Supt Taylor told him that after he was put under investigation anyone who showed a liking for him was ostracised.

He said Supt Taylor told him that during the investigation, Ms O’Sullivan wanted to get her hands on his phones as that was “the smoking gun” that would show her involvement in what was going on.

“This idea of the phones being confiscated was central to what he was saying and that there was something incriminating on the phones by extension,” said Mr Clifford.

The tribunal has previously heard Supt Taylor handed over two phones to investigators, but neither was the phone he used while Garda press officer.

A second meeting took place with Supt Taylor in October 2016.

Mr Clifford said he contacted him at this stage as he wanted to confirm some information he received from another source.

There were three things he wanted to check. Had texts been used as part of the smear campaign, was an intelligence file on Sgt McCabe created in Garda headquarters, and was someone appointed to monitor Sgt McCabe on Pulse.

He said Supt Taylor answered “yes” to these questions.

In May 2017 he was in contact with Supt Taylor again, this time while fact checking his book on Sgt McCabe.

He sent Supt Taylor an extract from the book in which the superintendent featured and asked him to check it for accuracy.

This included a reference to Supt Taylor sending “hundreds if not thousands of text messages to the media and garda personnel” portraying Sgt McCabe in a bad light.

He said Supt Taylor came back to him within days and did not raise any issue with the accuracy of this passage.

Supt Taylor has denied that he ever claimed to have conducted the smear campaign by text message.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton has previously heard 12 of the 15 phones used by Ms O’Sullivan, Mr Callinan and Supt Taylor are missing and could not be provided to the tribunal.

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