Sunday 16 December 2018

RTÉ crime correspondent says negative Sgt McCabe briefings 'didn't happen'

Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Picture:
Sergeant Maurice McCabe. Picture:
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

RTE’s crime correspondent Paul Reynolds has said “negative briefings” a former garda press officer claims he gave him about whistleblower Maurice McCabe “didn’t happen.”

Mr Reynolds denied that he was one of the journalists briefed by then-garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor as part of an alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.

He told the Disclosures Tribunal the idea that a press officer would “sidle over to" a journalist in the middle of a story and talk to them about something completely different “doesn’t make sense” and “wouldn’t happen.”

The tribunal is investigating an alleged smear campaign by senior gardai against Sgt McCabe.

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

Mr Reynolds told Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal, he had had a professional relationship with both former garda commissioners and dealt with Dave Taylor as press officer but had never met Sgt McCabe.

Mr Reynolds said Sgt McCabe first became a public figure, as far as he knew, when his name was mentioned in the Dail public accounts committee in January 2014.

Mr Reynolds said he “may have” read an article by John Mooney in the Sunday Times in 2010 in which Sgt McCabe was first named in public.

Ms Leader asked him what knowledge he had about the Ms D allegation and how that came about.

He said he thought he first heard there had been an allegation some time in 2013, “but I heard it all together - that there had been an allegation, I heard the fact that there was an investigation, a file had been sent to the DPP and that there was no prosecution.”

He could not be more precise because once he heard that the DPP decided there would not be a prosecution, “as far as I was concerned, it was nothing to do with me as a reporter.”

He thought it was in the context of the penalty points issue that it emerged there had been an allegation “and there was nothing in it.”

He became aware that it was an allegation of sexual abuse and “I think perhaps I might have heard” that it involved a child.

If he heard it again it was always in the context of there being no prosecution and “everybody seemed to know there was nothing in it,” he continued.

The information was “circulating for some time” in media and garda circles and he knew he “wasn’t the only one who was aware of it.”

He knew politicians, journalists and gardai knew about it. If there was something in it, he said, he would have heard about it because it “would have gone through a process.”

Ms Leader asked if this was linked to Sgt McCabe’s supposed motivation (in making complaints about the gardai) and that he was “somewhat embittered”.

“No, I never heard that and that wouldn’t have made sense to me because he was exonerated,” Mr Reynolds said.

Ms Leader put it to him that Supt Taylor had identified him to the tribunal as one of a number of journalists who he negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe.

“It was opportunistic, where the situation would presented itself,” Mr Taylor had said of the “briefing”; it would be at press conferences, Commissioner conferences “where we would have conversations on the margins and the matter would come up.”

Supt Taylor had told the tribunal he could not identify specific dates, “but it was opportunistic.”

“That didn’t happen and anybody who knows how reporters work in the field knows that couldn’t happen,” Mr Reynolds said.

Murder scenes were “busy places” and he said he would arrive with a camera crew and a sat van, find out what was going on, and move around trying to identify any eye witnesses. He would wait for the gardai to arrive, including the press officer.

“I would be just one of a number of journalists there,” he continued, a microphone would be set up, there would be “a thing called a huddle” and questions would be asked.

Once you have the information, you go to the sat van, he said.

“The idea that the press officer would sidle over to you in the middle of a particular story and try to talk to you about something completely different is something that doesn’t make sense… it wouldn’t happen,” he said.

“How was I separated from the sheep in the middle of the huddle?” he asked. “It just doesn’t make sense to me, I can’t see how it’s possible.”

Journalists tended to move in a herd, Mr Reynolds said, and “the idea that he would introduce this particular issue, completely out of the blue just doesn’t make sense.”

“Suddenly he would introduce this Sgt McCabe story and we would freeze and listen and take it all in and we wouldn’t respond as if we went into a daze, and when that was finished, we would go back to being normal, animated and chatty… it doesn’t make sense to me,” Mr Reynolds said.

Phone records showed Mr Reynolds’ contacts with Supt Taylor.

He told the tribunal he covered crime 24 hours a day on TV and radio, with an average of 200 TV stories every year. All were crime and justice stories and contact with the press office was a necessity.

Ms Leader asked if he was speaking to Supt Taylor about “the D matter.”

“No, I don’t even know who Ms D is,” he said.

Mr Reynolds said he had no contact with either former garda commissioner in relation to the terms of reference of the tribunal.

He never spoke to the commissioners about Sgt McCabe in relation to “any negative connotation.”

Ms Leader said Professor Colum Kenny had nominated Mr Reynolds as a journalist he spoke to in 2014 and he said “you suggested he should talk to the boys up there” in relation to Sgt McCabe. Mr Kenny had taken that to mean Cavan Monaghan and said this took place around a Dail committee meeting in February 2014.

Mr Reynolds replied that he was not at that meeting as he was ill that day and “the conversation he alleges didn’t happen. I never spoke to him about Sgt McCabe.”

“His statement is factually incorrect, I wasn’t there at the time,” he said adding that the corroboration Mr Kenny had used for the conversation also “didn’t happen.”

He said he had no wish to cast aspersions on Mr Kenny or get into any “spat” with him, but “the man is mistaken.”

“For the last five years he has been writing disparagingly and factually incorrectly about me,” Mr Reynolds said.

Mr Reynolds was shown the script of a report he wrote on February 24, 2014 which referred to then garda commissioner Martin Callinan writing to Sgt McCabe and telling him to co-operate with the investigation into allegations that penalty points had been cancelled.

Mr Reynolds said he had sight of that direction by the commissioner and wrote the report on that basis.

Supt Taylor did not give it to him, but somebody else did, he said.

Mr Reynolds sought a response from garda HQ and got it 90 minutes later from Supt Taylor who gave him “the official garda line” that the commissioner had said this was a direction.

Sgt McCabe had declined to respond to Mr Reynolds but later gave a response to the Prime Time programme. Mr Reynolds was then shown letters between John Burke at RTE’s This Week programme and Sgt Tony Connaughton in the Garda Press Office. Sgt Connaughton mailed stating that the commissioner “confirms that he did not put any remarks into the public domain.”

Mr Reynolds said he spoke to the press officer, got an official statement, put the story up and there were no complaints from the press office or the commissioner in relation to inaccuracy.

Supt Taylor had told the tribunal he was “instructed by the commissioner to brief the media that Sgt McCabe had refused to co-operate” with the investigation.

He said he later found out that was untrue.

Mr Reynolds said he was never briefed by Supt Taylor that Sgt McCabe refused to co-operate and he never reported that.

The tribunal heard Mr Reynolds broadcast a number of reports on the O’Higgins Commission’s report on May 9, 2016, two days before it was published.

He said he could not tell the tribunal where he got this and was exercising journalistic privilege.

The report was in relation to failures in the Cavan Monaghan Garda division. The commission was established on foot of complaints by Mr McCabe.

The RTE broadcasts are being played in full to the tribunal and this will continue as his evidence continues tomorrow.

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