Thursday 17 October 2019

Inquiry into loss of computer in sex abuse case essential

Whistleblower was found not to have been in breach of duty, and hard-drive has never surfaced

Fr Michael Molloy who was jailed for five years at Cavan Circuit Court for sexually abusing a teenage boy. Picture: Ciara Wilkinson
Fr Michael Molloy who was jailed for five years at Cavan Circuit Court for sexually abusing a teenage boy. Picture: Ciara Wilkinson

Colum Kenny

The loss of a computer drive in a sex abuse case should be investigated as part of any serious inquiry into facts surrounding the allegations and treatment of garda whistleblowers.

The facts surrounding the loss of that computer drive are disturbing. Disturbing too is the fact that disciplinary proceedings relating to its disappearance were started against one of the whistleblowers years after it disappeared. If he had a case to answer, why did proceedings not begin sooner?

The whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, was eventually found last September not to be in breach of his duties, and was never a member of the investigating team in the sex abuse case. He was a sergeant at the station where the team was based.

The lengthy disciplinary process hung over his family for part of the time that he pursued his complaints about penalty points and other matters. He and his wife told the Sunday Independent that "the annoyance and distress caused to our family has been enormous and has taken its toll."

Last week, the Sunday Independent reported that an attempt by some gardai to put the blame on Sgt McCabe in a separate case, for the release of killer Jerry McGrath on bail prior to McGrath's murder of Sylvia Roche-Kelly, had failed.

It is understood that Sgt McCabe has also been subjected to a serious accusation by a senior garda that was subsequently referred by gardai to the DPP, who found no basis on which to pursue the matter.

So where did the computer in the child abuse case go? What if there was evidence on it of other victims or perpetrators of child abuse? Why was its disappearance not more fully investigated at the time?

A representative of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) who attended the disciplinary hearing into Sgt McCabe has said that garda authorities indicated in the presence of himself and Sgt McCabe that during the disciplinary investigation they had interviewed only the whistleblower about the loss of the computer.

Once Sgt McCabe was cleared, it was not necessary to interview other gardai. There had earlier been separate inquiries by garda management into the computer's loss. But no explanation for the loss of the computer has been published.

The AGSI representative said that normal procedures in child abuse cases is for such a computer or hard-drive to be sent very quickly to garda technical experts in Dublin to determine if it contains evidence of a crime against one or more victims. It might also reveal any other perpetrator. He expressed surprise at its loss in garda custody.

On September 14, 2007, a team of gardai acting under warrant seized the computer hard-drive at a parochial house in Co Cavan, where Fr Michael Molloy lived.

The investigation team in 2007 immediately included the computer hard-drive on its list of exhibits in the case.

It is understood that a revised garda list of exhibits drawn up in July 2009 did not include this exhibit. Gardai did not establish its whereabouts at that time. Gardai have declined to say if this hard-drive was ever forensically examined.

Later in 2009, Fr Molloy, of Cavan, pleaded guilty to two sample charges of defilement of a boy in his early teens and one of possession of child pornography (on his phone). There was no reliance on the missing computer-drive, and the DPP has declined to confirm or deny if it was ever aware of its existence.

Soon after attending a child protection course, Fr Molloy had begun to abuse the son of a friend. Molloy secretly filmed his abuse of the youth.

Disciplinary proceedings relating to the loss of the computer started against the whistleblower in February 2012, two years and three months after Fr Molloy went to jail and long after the case was closed.

Since 2008, the whistleblower has been complaining to his superiors about the quality of investigation of certain serious crimes.

Early in 2012 he also approached the official Confidential Recipient of complaints by garda whistleblowers to voice his concern about garda abuses of the penalty points system.

He was the sergeant in charge of the local garda station in which the investigating team in Fr Molloy's case was based.

Whether or not he even knew that the computer was initially lodged in the property room at the station was disputed, with some uncertainty relating to certain entries in the records of the investigating team. He categorically denies that he knew of it.

He was never part of the investigating team responsible for the computer and has been cleared of any breach of duty.

The Diocese of Kilmore has told the Sunday Independent that when it sought to get back the computer for normal parish business, gardai indicated to the diocese that it could not be found.

Asked was the priest's computer and/or hard-drive ever sent out of Cavan by gardai for further examination, (and if so, when and to where), the gardai said last September that "we do not comment on individual cases or investigations".

Sunday Independent

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