A chief superintendent has denied that a Garda whistleblower became the focus of investigations, rather than alleged criminality, as soon as he made his protected disclosure, a tribunal has heard.
The Disclosures Tribunal is in its fourth week hearing the issues raised by Garda Nicholas Keogh, who alleges that a senior member of the Athlone drugs unit, identified to the tribunal as Garda A, was in an improper relationship with a heroin dealer, identified as Ms B.
The tribunal, chaired by Judge Sean Ryan, is investigating if Gda Keogh was targeted, harassed, or bullied, after he made his protected disclosure alleging Garda collusion in the drugs trade on 8 May, 2014.
Judge Ryan heard that a Liam McHugh approached Garda Aidan Lyons in Athlone on 31 May, 2014.
Gda Lyons wrote a report - later read by Chief Superintendent Mark Curran - that stated:
“At approximately 9pm, I was approached by Liam McHugh on Bastion Street, Athlone. Mr McHugh brought up the general topic of whistleblowers... he informed me that 'the bald guard [Gda Keogh] came over to me the other day and asked if I could remember the time I was searched by the three guards and €800 was stolen from me and spent drinking in the Castle [pub], the bookies and the casino. He said that if I wanted to make a complaint about it that he would back me up.'”
Mr McHugh is reported as saying that Gda Keogh “told me he was there himself when it happened and he would back me up”.
Mr McHugh, however, denied the theft ever took place to Gda Lyons and would later refuse to make a statement to gardaí.
At the time, gardaí were also investigating a claim that Gda Keogh had “coached” a witness before giving a statement of complaint and were querying issues around a Pulse entry Gda Keogh made alleging the collusion.
Chief Supt Curran told Sinead McGrath BL that the allegation was that Gda Keogh had “some knowledge” of possible Garda criminality.
“We had to consider everything very carefully, to keep an open mind – not risk interfering with the criminal investigation into the confidential reporting information.
“The interesting thing about the Liam McHugh case is that he's not saying he knows about it but the only person who might is Gda Keogh,” said Chief Supt Curran.
Chief Supt Curran said that he had to “treat the possibility of criminality [by gardaí] with seriousness - was Gda Keogh a witness, or did he fail to report it, or did he participate or did he know of it?”
Gda Keogh has maintained in his evidence that the report was written to give the impression that he was encouraging people to make complaints or false complaints against gardaí.
Ms McGrath said: “What this seems to have triggered is not an investigation into criminality – it triggered a line of inquiry into Gda Keogh.”
“No,” said Chief Supt Curran, “our first action was to go to Mr McHugh.”
Gda Keogh spoke to Superintendent Noreen McBrien about the matter soon after the report by Gda Lyons and said that he “hadn't seen Mr McHugh in two years”.
“Is the focus on Gda Keogh at this stage?” asked Ms McGrath.
Chief Supt Curran said that local gardaí were directed and had an “obligation” to get a statement from Mr McHugh.
Ms McGrath asked why the other gardaí mentioned were not being sought for interview.
“Mr McHugh wouldn't make a statement, we got nothing from Mr McHugh and Gda Keogh signed an oath that it never happened. I was relieved and it was simple enough to close the matter, but it was only fair to ask Gda Keogh.
“There were a number of possibilities and Mr McHugh needed to be bottomed out in what was he talking about,” said Gda Keogh.
Mc McGrath asked why the inquiry did not go back to Gda Lyons who made the report.
“Gda Lyons is only a messenger, or a transmitter, I needed to go and ask because all I have is what Liam McHugh is alleged to have said. I had to keep an open mind. There was no validation from Mr McHugh, or Gda Keogh, and therefore no other gardaí.
“If you ask me, I don't believe the [claims in the] interaction with Mr McHugh happened. If he [Gda Keogh] didn't do it, he didn't do it - I'm just looking for something in writing.
“I accept Gda Keogh when he said it didn't happen and it went no further. I don't initiate these matters, but I've no choice but to respond to them. Any suggestion that I'm manipulating matters I totally reject, I would never do that to anyone,” said Chief Supt Curran.