Sunday 26 May 2019

Ex-commissioner O'Sullivan and her son sue newspaper in defamation case

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and her son, Ciaran McGowan, are taking defamation proceedings against the publishers of 'The Sunday Times'.

The cases are understood to relate to an article published about the appearance of broadcaster and journalist Paul Williams at the Disclosures Tribunal.

Earlier this year, Mr Williams, who works for Newstalk and the Irish Independent, initiated a defamation suit against Times Newspapers Ltd over the article, published in 'The Sunday Times'.

The piece, which appeared in July 2017, incorrectly stated that an interview conducted by Mr Williams with a woman known as Ms D in 2014 was recorded by Mr McGowan, a photographer and Ms O'Sullivan's son.

The newspaper later acknowledged this was an error and issued an apology to Mr Williams, Mr McGowan and Independent News & Media.

"The interview was in fact recorded by a female videographer and Mr McGowan had no involvement whatsoever in the matter," it said in the apology.

Separate sets of High Court proceedings were initiated by Ms O'Sullivan and Mr McGowan on Thursday. A spokeswoman for Times Newspapers Ltd said it had no comment to make about the legal actions.

Ms O'Sullivan was Garda commissioner at the time the article appeared in 'The Sunday Times'.

She stepped down in September 2017, saying an "unending cycle" of investigations and inquiries was making it difficult for her to implement cultural and structural reforms in the Garda force.

Ms D was a young woman who alleged in 2006 that she had been sexually assaulted years earlier as a child by Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Sgt McCabe was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2007.

The Director of Public Prosecutions decided that even if the claims, which were disputed, were correct, the events described would not constitute a crime.

Mr Williams interviewed Ms D in early March 2014.

A piece was subsequently published in the Irish Independent the following month in which she claimed the investigation was flawed.

The article did not name Ms D or Sgt McCabe.

However, tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton praised the investigation, saying it would be a very good example for teaching purposes of how to conduct an inquiry of this kind.

The tribunal has been investigating claims by former Garda press officer Supt Dave Taylor that the sexual assault allegation was dredged up in 2013 to discredit Sgt McCabe, who was highlighting penalty points abuses and other malpractice in the force.

Supt Taylor has claimed he was instructed to negatively brief journalists about it by the then commissioner, Martin Callinan, and with the knowledge of Ms O'Sullivan, who was deputy commissioner at the time.

Both have denied his allegations.

Mr Williams is one of 12 journalists Supt Taylor claims to have negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe.

However, most of those identified, including Mr Williams, have said they were not negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe, while others have exercised journalistic privilege.

The tribunal is expected to issue its findings in October.

Irish Independent

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