Comment: If Dave Taylor let the cat out of the bag, it can’t be put back in now

There is a weariness about everything around the Maurice McCabe story at this stage, but events coming to a conclusion in Dublin Castle are worthy of serious attention. Recent revelations have brought into sharp focus matters of great import to both policing and the media in this country.

The tribunal is examining whether there was a smear campaign against Sergeant McCabe in 2013-14 when he was raising issues of Garda malpractice.

This campaign, it is claimed, used a discredited allegation against Sgt McCabe in an attempt to blacken his name. If so, he was scurrilously and falsely labelled as a child abuser in order to deflect from his claims, which were ultimately vindicated.

Superintendent Dave Taylor, former head of the Garda press office, made a protected disclosure in September 2016 admitted his role in the campaign, claiming he was acting on instructions from then commissioner Martin Callinan, and implicating then deputy commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan.

Supt Taylor’s credibility is extremely strained. It has emerged at the inquiry that, in September 2016, he was under criminal investigation for widespread leaking of confidential information. 

Evidence has been adduced to suggests he was ill-disposed towards Ms O’Sullivan, who had moved him from the press office when she succeeded Mr Callinan in March 2014.

Supt Taylor provided the tribunal with a list of nine reporters whom he claimed to have “negatively briefed” about Sgt McCabe. All of the reporters are either denying this or claiming journalistic privilege. 

The tribunal investigators uncovered links between Supt Taylor and two other reporters. When confronted with this, Supt Taylor added them to the list. His failure to include them in the original list was one of many blows to his credibility.

The denials and claims of privilege have resulted in there being no direct corroboration from the media of Supt Taylor’s claims of negative briefings.

Then this week, a break on that front. A former crime reporter with the Daily Mirror, Cathal McMahon, told the tribunal he heard from a source in early 2014 about the historic allegation against Sgt McCabe. 

He says he phoned Supt Taylor, who confirmed it, and told him he should travel to Cavan to meet the girl. The reporter consulted with his editor, John ‘Jumbo’ Kerins. The editor said no way, that he didn’t believe the story and, in any event, thought it would be a libel minefield.

But this was the first direct corroboration of Supt Taylor’s claims of a campaign.

Here was evidence that the man wasn’t a fantasist, or that he had nefariously invented the whole thing.

Supt Taylor’s reaction was revealing. His counsel, John Ferry, put it to Mr McMahon that Supt Taylor says “in that period of early 2014, you were one of the journalists that were being negatively briefed by Superintendent David Taylor…and (Taylor told you) that there had been an investigation (into the allegation) and that Sergeant McCabe was motivated by revenge.”

So Supt Taylor was adding another name to his list now that he was confronted with evidence. Crucially, though, he was denying that he told Mr McMahon to travel to Cavan. The fact that Mr McMahon is no longer a journalist, has no apparent axe to grind, and only came forward after his editor belatedly remembered the incident, all adds weight to his testimony.

Thus presented with an opportunity to embrace corroboration of his most serious claims, Supt Taylor has instead denied the specific encounter with the Daily Mirror reporter. Instead he has reverted to a stock position that he briefed journalists but can’t recall any specific cases.

His position reinforces a growing suspicion that he is not coming clean about the details of his smear campaign. This was referenced by TD Mick Wallace in his evidence on Thursday. 

Mr Wallace and his colleague Clare Daly met Supt Talyor in the latter’s home around the time he made the protected disclosure.

“I have seen what Supt Taylor said in here,” Mr Wallace told the tribunal. 

“And it’s clear that he couldn’t have told the truth in his living room and in here as far as I’m concerned. And did he tell more in the truth in his living room or in here? That’s for Judge Charleton to decide. But if you were looking for my opinion on it, I think he told us more of the truth in his living room than he did in here.” 

Mr Wallace’s thesis amounts to a scenario in which Supt Taylor let the cat out of the bag when he was in desperate circumstances, and there’s no putting the creature back in now.

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