Charleton Tribunal: Senior Tusla executive denies cover-up over false abuse allegation

A senior Tusla executive has denied there was a cover-up after a false allegation of sexual abuse was placed in a file against garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The agency’s chief operations officer Jim Gibson also told the Charleton tribunal, which is looking at claims of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, that he wasn’t aware of any evidence of improper garda meddling in the case.

Jim Gibson at the The Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

"We as an agency have stated clearly in January of this year that we made serious case management mistakes," Mr Gibson said.

In 2006 Ms D made an allegation that she had been sexually assaulted by Sgt McCabe in 1998. After an investigation the DPP decided that the allegation would not constitute an offence. A Tusla file on Sgt McCabe was subsequently opened after Ms D sought counselling in 2013, to which more serious allegations from an unrelated case were incorrectly added.

Mr Gibson said the case was characterised by failures in governance and oversight.

"This isn’t just a series of lapses," said Michael McDowell SC, representing Sgt McCabe. "This is a deliberate decision not to inquire as to how this had gone so catastrophically wrong."

Mr McDowell said that there seemed to be "an absolute determination to put nothing on the record as to what went wrong" and that Tusla area manager Gerard Lowry erred in not reporting the case to his superiors.

Mr Gibson said this was not correct. "The Child and Family Agency was not involved in a cover-up," he said.

"To insinuate that Gerry Lowry or any one else was involved in a cover-up is not evidenced in my opinion."

Mr McDowell said “we would have a clearer picture of what happened” if an explanation had been demanded by Mr Lowry when the error was uncovered.

Mr Gibson told the tribunal he was not aware of any evidence of improper garda involvement or interfering or meddling in the case.

"I’m assured by management involved in this case that there was no evidence of such behaviour," he said.

Mr Gibson said he was disappointed that the case had not been escalated "given the profile of the subject".

He said Mr Lowry "made a professional decision not to escalate it with the national office."

Inspector Pat O’Connell at the public hearing at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Earlier today the tribunal heard that complaints by garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe about policing in Bailieboro were "divisive".

Insp Pat O’Connell told the tribunal that from around 2007 Sgt McCabe had raised issues relating to the large number of probationary guards and the lack of an inspector in Bailieboro.

"It was divisive. You could regard it as split," said Insp O’Connell, who was a sergeant at the time.

"I certainly got a feel that there was a negative feel in Bailieboro."

The tribunal is looking at allegations that Sgt McCabe was the subject of a smear campaign.

A HSE notification sent to gardaí in May 2014 contained an erroneous allegation of sexual assault against Sgt McCabe.

Insp O’Connell, who was a sergeant and district clerk to Chief Supt James Sheridan, was asked by tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton why he did not give Sgt McCabe a "heads up" that the sergeant might be interviewed by social workers in 2014.

The inspector said that as district clerk, he was privy to confidential information other sergeants would not know about, and had he disclosed it, he could have faced disciplinary action.

Insp O’Connell also said that because Sgt McCabe had become a national figure, there was "a reluctance and a certain fear that if you made contact you would find yourself embroiled in a further controversy”.

"There was a certain fear that contact with Sgt McCabe would end up with you embroiled in something you had nothing to do with," he said.

Insp O’Connell said he was aware an earlier allegation had been made against Sgt McCabe in 2006, but he didn’t know specific details. He knew that Supt Noel Cunningham, then Inspector, had investigated the 2006 case, and the DPP had directed no prosecution.

Insp O’Connell said that in May 2014, when the notification was received from the HSE containing an allegation of serious sexual assault against Sgt McCabe, his superior officer, Chief Supt James Sheridan, was "very taken aback with the allegation."

"I certainly didn’t believe that he would have carried out such an act," Insp O’Connell said.

He said that he knew this was different to the the 2006 allegation, although he did not know the details of 2006, because "this was an allegation of rape. If there was an allegation of rape against any officer when I came in, that would have been known."

"The general conversation was, this must be wrong, this must be a mistake. That was the feeling I got at the time," he said.

Insp O’Connell said he "got the sense" that Chief Supt Sheridan also believed it was wrong.

A letter sent by chief Supt Sheridan to Kieran Kenny, the assistant commissioner in charge of the Northern region, did not say that the Chief Superintendent believed the allegation was a mistake, the tribunal heard.

Insp O’Connell said that while the officers might believe there was an error, they did not have confirmation of their suspicion at the time.

When Tusla and the HSE corrected the erroneous report, Insp O’Connell was asked to clarify how the error had occurred.

He said he established with social worker Fiona Ward that there had been a "cut and paste" typographical error.

The tribunal continues.


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