In any good whodunnit, the search for the smoking gun becomes the focal point.
How much deeper the mystery becomes when the character who would benefit most from the weapons’s discovery declares it would never in fact be found smoking but merely a bit whiffy from being hidden in someone’s back pocket.
That’s the baffling puzzle the Disclosures Tribunal is left to decipher as Supt David Taylor finds himself at odds with yet another witness about the alleged smear campaign against Garda whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Sgt McCabe, TD John McGuinness and, as of yesterday, Irish Examiner journalist Michael Clifford, have all told the tribunal that Supt Taylor, the former Garda press officer, told them that, on orders from his superiors, he sent hundreds, possibly thousands of text messages spreading the lie that Sgt McCabe was a child abuser, among other slurs.
The phones on which they say he said he sent the messages were taken from him when he was arrested as part of an investigation into Garda leaks and the contents have not been recovered.
That would be problematic enough for Supt Taylor if he was sticking to the story that he sent all those messages, because then his proof of an orchestrated smear campaign would be gone.
But he has told the tribunal that he didn’t say he sent them. He says the only text messages he sent were to his then commissioner, Martin Callinan, and then deputy commissioner (and future former commissioner), Nóirín O’Sullivan, to update them on media coverage of the whistleblower affair.
There were a lot of messages, he says, because Callinan was obsessed with Sgt McCabe and the damage he felt the whistleblower was causing the force, but that’s as far as his texting went.
That’s not how Michael Clifford understood it. Nor is it how he wrote about the issue in his book on the McCabe saga in a chapter which he sent to Taylor to fact-check before it went to print. Taylor requested no change to this account.
Mr Clifford said he clearly understood from Supt Taylor that the phones were “the key to everything” and that O’Sullivan had orchestrated his arrest by the leaks squad to enable their seizure.
“He felt that Nóirín O’Sullivan wanted to get her hands on his phone because that was the smoking gun,” said Mr Clifford. “It was all to get the phone and destroy the evidence linking her to the campaign.”
Supt Taylor’s belated disputing of the details is just one of the contradictions tribunal chair, Peter Charleton, will have to square in his report. He also grappled with journalistic privilege yesterday, a subject rife with contradictory views.
Former Irish Examiner editor Tim Vaughan argued for preserving privilege on everything to do with sources. Judge Charleton said even Woodward and Bernstein acknowledged their source in the end.
Mr Vaughan pointed out that that came after 30 years. Judge Charleton asked if he wanted to come back in 30 years time.
It was a rhetorical question. At least, everyone present hoped it was.
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