Tuesday 22 October 2019

Spin and lies clouded truth of Garda smear campaign

No grand conspiracy - but Charleton did uncover a grubby attempt to smear Maurice McCabe

Closed doors: David Taylor (left) and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Closed doors: David Taylor (left) and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Disclosures Tribunal report shows how a terrible wrong can take on a life of its own once it gets into the public domain; puffed up on political rhetoric, distorted by agendas, fuelled by lies. It makes the truth harder to find.

After a "dreadful struggle to uncover what may have gone on behind closed doors", Mr Justice Peter Charleton found no grand conspiracy of state agencies ranged against the Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, no evidence that the horrific false rape allegations against him were deliberately manufactured to torpedo his reputation.

What he found was shocking and dangerous, but it was also pathetic, grubby and rather sad; that the State's most senior garda became so consumed by the whistleblower that he and his inept but willing press officer embarked on a campaign to smear his name.

It was an "utter mystery" to Mr Justice Charleton why the former commissioner, Martin Callinan, chose Superintendent David Taylor as his press officer in the first place.

Charleton was told he was "talented, experienced, articulate".

"He is not," said Charleton. "All of this is just plain untrue." Nevertheless, Taylor was a "constant sidekick" of the garda commissioner and "in and out of his office" during his time as garda press officer from 2012 until 2014.

The Disclosures Tribunal report praised Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photo: RollingNews.ie
The Disclosures Tribunal report praised Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Photo: RollingNews.ie

Charleton said Taylor told a pack of lies to the tribunal but one of his "slightly closer to the truth" statements described a time when Garda management's frustration with the whistleblower escalated.

In 2013 as the penalty points controversy rolled on and McCabe gained credence, senior Garda management became more "frustrated". Shackled from speaking publicly and privately they wanted to "stick the boot in".

The two men embarked on a smear campaign that involved "much nodding and winking" and "no smoke without fire" innuendo about a child abuse allegation made against McCabe by the daughter of a former colleague, which had been thoroughly investigated and the Director of Public Prosecutions said there were no grounds on which to prosecute.

Callinan wanted to "hit back" by making sure journalists were aware of the allegation, dropping it into the conversation when talking to them.

Taylor was a person who "would promise much and deliver little", Charleton said. Callinan would have eventually seen through his "bluster and spoof". Charleton believed that was why the country's most senior police officer, the man in charge of State security, became directly involved in the smearing of McCabe. He decided that he would do a more effective job than "his incompetent subordinate had already engaged in".

Over two months, Callinan repulsively denigrated McCabe to "at least" four people in corridors and car parks: Philip Boucher-Hayes, the RTE journalist John Deasy, the Fine Gael TD Seamus McCarthy, Comptroller and Auditor General at a Public Accounts Committee meeting, and John McGuinness, the chair of the PAC. Their testimonies turned out to be the only other evidence that directly linked Callinan to the smear campaign.

That was the truth of the smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe, Charleton found. Then David Taylor twisted the truth to suit his own ends.

By this time, the internal Garda controversies had spread to Government. Martin Callinan was one of the casualties, and Noirin O'Sullivan replaced him as commissioner. One of the first things she had done was shift Taylor sideways to traffic, because she "neither trusted him nor liked him". Worse was to come.

By 2016, Taylor was under criminal investigation, suspended and facing disciplinary proceedings for repeated unauthorised leaking of sensitive information to the media.

Taylor came up with a strategy to undermine the criminal investigation and disciplinary proceedings and to get his job back, according to Charleton - effectively to jump on the whistleblower bandwagon. He would create a fuss, get some public sympathy and claim he was effectively being set up by Garda HQ.

So it was that Taylor "spun a deceit" that Martin Callinan had orchestrated a smear campaign against McCabe, with the knowledge of Noirin O'Sullivan. Taylor diminished his own role, claiming he was following orders. He took his story to Maurice McCabe and both made protected disclosures.

"[Taylor] quickly ensured that his supposedly confidential disclosure was made as public as possible. He met press people... interacted with concerned public representatives. He claimed that he had been tasked by Commissioner Callinan to use every opportunity possible to brief the media negatively about Maurice McCabe," Charleton said.

Among those he briefed were independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who championed Garda whistleblowers. Taylor's "public lie" was enthusiastically taken up and added considerably to public disquiet: "Furthermore, it cast a pall of pretended deceit over the entire police force. Then no one knew better. Now, they do," Charleton said.

It came to a head one fevered week in February last year when the Dail debated how best to investigate the disturbing allegations of a smear campaign against McCabe.

Brendan Howlin, the Labour Party leader, used Dail privilege to repeat what a journalist had told him: that O'Sullivan had told journalists about the sex abuse allegation - which Charleton later found to be untrue. Days later, RTE's Prime Time broke alarming news that the child and family agency, Tusla, had falsely accused Maurice McCabe of rape.

Tusla blamed a "transcription error" that resulted in the wrong allegation of child rape going on Maurice McCabe's file.

The error was notified to Tusla but that failed to kill the false allegation, which continued to have an "afterlife", resulting in McCabe being accused of rape in a letter opened by his wife two years later.

Another Garda whistleblower, Keith Harrison, weighed in with claims that senior management had leaned on Tusla to intervene in his domestic situation - a case so similar to McCabe's "it couldn't be coincidence" and had to come on orders from the "highest level".

Harrison's claims would also be scathingly discounted by Charleton.

At the time he was falsely accused, McCabe's complaints about the Garda were being investigated by a Commission of Investigation behind closed doors. It beggared belief that the false rape allegation was "coincidence".

According to Charleton, people were "justified" in suspecting that Garda HQ was capable of using social services to destroy the reputation of one of its own members.

A few months later, the narrative was again "manipulated" in a way that damaged Noirin O'Sullivan. "Selected extracts" from the private Commission of Investigation were leaked to the media.

The extracts purported to show how Noirin O'Sullivan had allegedly told her legal team to attack McCabe behind the closed doors of the commission, while appearing to support him in public.

"Public controversy flowed in florid form following on the deception of the media by the persons who leaked selected extracts from the O'Higgins Commission transcript," Charleton found.

The narrative had "somehow transmogrified over time into an allegation that Maurice McCabe had been maliciously accused before the O'Higgins Commission of multiple and false sexual assault offences with a view to damaging his creditworthiness; that the Garda Commissioner had authorised this; that the minister had been informed; and that the minister [for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald] had stood back and allowed it to happen".

Both were vindicated by Mr Justice Charleton. The endless controversy played no small part in Noirin O'Sullivan's decision to resign last year and forced the resignation as Minister for Justice in December. Fianna Fail demanded her head when emails surfaced suggesting she was aware of the Garda's legal strategy, having claimed she was not.

The full transcripts showed the allegations against O'Sullivan's alleged legal strategy were without foundation. The disclosures found no evidence that O'Sullivan had any hand, act or part in Callinan and Taylor's campaign to smear McCabe.

Mr Justice Charleton rejected accusations that she had instructed her legal team to make unfounded allegations against Sgt McCabe, and vindicated and fully accepted the evidence of Frances Fitzgerald.

As Charleton noted, by then much damage had already been done.

Sunday Independent

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