Paul Williams was surprised to hear his name brought up in a Dáil debate about the quashing of penalty points. This was in late 2013, the Disclosures Tribunal heard yesterday.
Mr Williams is probably the country’s best-known crime reporter. His name was released — under Dáil privilege — by Joan Collins TD. This was at a time when some politicians were highlighting attempts by garda whistleblowers to uncover abuses in road policing.
One of the whistleblowers was Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The tribunal is examining whether a discredited allegation from the daughter of a colleague in 2006 was used to discredit Sgt McCabe to deflect from the complaints he was making.
Mr Williams didn’t connect Sgt McCabe with the release of his name.
“I had nothing to hide in relation to the fixed-charge notice,” Mr Williams said.
“I did it by the book. I never had any evidence that Maurice McCabe was behind that.” Mr Williams didn’t hear any of the rumours going around that Sgt McCabe was motivated by revenge because of the 2006 allegation. He did hear something vague.
“It was a rumour out there that he may have had a grievance with his own authorities, that he may have fallen out with them,” Mr Williams said.
He hadn’t been briefed about the allegation from Superintendent Dave Taylor, the head of the garda press office, who now claims that he did brief Mr Williams and other journalists about exactly that in 2013.
Mr Williams says he wasn’t briefed about the issue by Supt Taylor, former garda commissioners Nóirín O’Sullivan and Martin Callinan, or any guard.
Then in March 2014, a superintendent whom he knew asked him would he take a call from Miss D’s father, Mr D. His daughter was being approached by reporters and she wanted to do an interview.
Mr Williams travelled to Cavan and interviewed her. She claimed that the investigation into her allegation was faulty and that she wanted it reinvestigated. She told him the whole episode had a major impact on her life.
The allegation, it has since emerged, was deemed to not even constitute a criminal offence. Her father also had some issues with Sgt McCabe at work, but he and Miss D deny this had any influence on her allegation.
Now, seven or eight years later, with Sgt McCabe making waves, the old, discredited allegation was making its way into the news.
On April 12 the Irish Independent ran the story, but didn’t identify Miss D or Sgt McCabe. The story said that she wanted the matter re-investigated and that it had had a major impact on her life. (GSOC did re-investigate and found that it had been conducted properly.) After the interview, Mr Williams says he rang Supt Taylor to confirm a few background details.
Two other articles based on the story were published over the following weeks. These are the only published material linking Sgt McCabe to the allegation from the time.
Mr Williams is adamant that he wasn’t told anything by Supt Taylor after the interview, apart from the fact that the allegation had been investigated and the DPP decided not to prosecute.
“He didn’t start gossiping or anything,” Mr Williams said. “If Dave Taylor negatively briefed me in any other regard, apart from what’s on the record, I would tell you and I would tell you if Martin Callinan did, or if Nóirín O’Sullivan did because I don’t have anything to hide in relation to these people.”
The tribunal did examine phone records of contact between Mr Williams and Ms O’Sullivan at the time. He said these contacts had to do with security issues around his own safety.
Mr Williams is the latest reporter to completely refute allegations from Supt Dave Taylor about negative briefings.
He was followed in the witness box by RTÉ’s crime correspondent, Paul Reynolds.
Mr Reynolds was also on Supt Taylor’s list. Giving evidence, he also refuted that he had been briefed negatively about Maurice McCabe. He agreed he had a lot of contact with Supt Taylor, Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan and said that any dealings with the latter two had nothing to do with the tribunal’s terms of reference.
It was put to him that media academic Colum Kenny had told the tribunal that Mr Reynolds was one of two reporters who had told him, Mr Kenny, that there were issues around Sgt McCabe.
The witness denied any such conversation. When pushed, he told tribunal lawyer Kathleen Leader, “For the last five years Colum Kenny has been writing disparagingly and factually incorrect about me.”
A theme running through the tribunal has been irreconcilable versions of conversations between various parties about Sgt McCabe, his motivation and allegations of sexual abuse. These conversations fall into two categories.
In the first instance, one party is claiming that the other attempted to cast Sgt McCabe in a poor light. The other party is denying that any such thing was ever said.
The most serious of these conversations involves Martin Callinan allegedly telling TD John McGuinness that Sgt McCabe had abused family members.
The claims between Mr Reynolds and Mr Kenny as to what was or was not said are typical of a number of such claims between various journalists heard at the tribunal.
The second category of conversation are those that Supt Taylor claims he was involved in. These all involve him telling journalists that Sgt McCabe was motivated by revenge over the 2006 allegation in bringing his complaints of malpractice.
Here, he is implicating himself. In each of these, the journalist in question has replied that no such conversation took place. Crucially, Supt Taylor has supplied scant, if any, specifics of where or when these alleged “briefings” occurred.
Mr Reynolds’ evidence continues today.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved