Crime journalist says he was not recipient of smears or negative briefings about garda whistleblower

Crime journalist Michael O'Toole told the Charleton tribunal that he was not the recipient of smears or negative briefings about garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Crime journalist says he was not recipient of smears or negative briefings about garda whistleblower

By Gerard Cunningham

Update 6.50pm: Crime journalist Michael O'Toole told the Charleton tribunal that he was not the recipient of smears or negative briefings about garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The tribunal is looking at allegations by former garda press officer Supt David Taylor that he was directed to smear Sgt McCabe. Former commissioners Martin Callinan and Nóirín O'Sullivan deny there was any smear campaign.

Mr O'Toole, the assistant editor and crime correspondent at the Irish Daily Star, said his relationship with Supt Taylor was "proper and professional".

"Nobody in An Garda Síochána smeared or negatively briefed Sgt McCabe to me," Mr O'Toole said.

Mr O'Toole said he was approached by "a very experienced journalist with significant access to the political world" around 2011 or 2012, who asked him about rumours about Sgt McCabe.

Mr O'Toole checked the rumour with a trusted contact and established the DPP had determined there was no evidence a crime was disclosed.

"Once I heard that, the matter was dead for me," Mr O'Toole said.

The contact spoke highly of Sgt McCabe, calling him "Maurice", Mr O'Toole said.

Mr O'Toole said the contact was not someone in Garda HQ or the Garda press office.

I was always of the view that the garda press office is his master's voice. They don't work for journalists, they work for the commissioner.

Mr O'Toole said that if a senior garda officer smeared Sgt McCabe, this would stand out in his memory as a newsworthy event. He said it was preposterous that someone would brief him at a crime scene, as the scenes were "chaotic", and he would be busy working on the story before deadlines.

Mr Noel Whelan BL on behalf on the garda commissioner said that it was "relatively easy" for someone in Mr O'Toole's line of work to debunk the rumours about Sgt McCabe.

"I had someone with knowledge of the situation, who I trusted implicitly," Mr O'Toole said.

Mr O'Toole said that journalists were not popular, crime journalists even less so, and he was "vexed by the suggestion crime reporters including myself were used in this smear”.

"That story did rankle with me, and it has rankled ever since," Mr O'Toole said.

Earlier, Michael McDowell SC, representing Sgt McCabe, told the tribunal there were inaccuracies in an RTÉ report in February 2014, which stated Sgt McCabe had not cooperated with the internal garda inquiry into penalty points headed by assistant commissioner John O'Mahony.

Michael McDowell and Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Michael McDowell and Maurice McCabe at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Mr McDowell said it was not true, as the report stated, that Commissioner Callinan had directed Sgt McCabe to cooperate with the investigation. Sgt McCabe had instead received a direction not to access Pulse records relating to penalty points.

It does appear that somebody was spinning a deeply unfavourable story about Sgt McCabe to RTE on that day.

"Potentially yes,"said Mr O'Mahony, giving evidence.

Mr McDowell said it appeared someone in An Garda Síochána "with some knowledge of the background facts decided to paint a very poor picture of Sgt McCabe in order that RTÉ would misrepresent the story to the public”.

"That does seem to be the case potentially, yes," said Mr O'Mahony.

Mr O'Mahony said it was not his view, or that of Mr Callinan, that there was non-cooperation by Sgt McCabe.

Mr O'Mahony said that because of the safeguards surrounding confidential disclosures and whistleblowers, he felt precluded from contacting Sgt McCabe.

The investigation, which involved five chief superintendents and six superintendents, examined cancelled penalty points notices individually and was thorough, Mr O'Mahony said.

Mr O'Mahony said that he knew journalist Paul Williams since the 1990s and they met regularly, but they had a rule that they never discussed what stories Mr Williams was working on.

Mr McDowell said that Sgt McCabe did not identify public persons for the purpose of having their names made public during the penalty points controversy.

"Whether it happened inadvertently or not, people were identified in public," Mr O'Mahony said.

Solicitor Kieran Kelly, on behalf of INM, said that Mr Williams had been critical of Garda HQ on several occasions in articles he wrote.

Disclosures Tribunal told list of 'nasty questions' was prepared for Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan

Earlier 2.30pm: A document containing a list of "nasty questions" which Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan could expect to be asked was prepared for the Garda press office in October 2016, the Charleton tribunal was told.

Supt John Ferris, who worked in the garda press office at the time, said that the list was prepared at the request of either himself or Andrew McLindon, a civilian who holds the post of director of communications with the force.

The document was prepared by a consultant to the press office who was "providing expertise in terms of the press office communications at the time".

Barrister Michael McDowell, representing whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, said that the document showed the Garda press office was aware of and talking about issues surrounding Sgt McCabe, and wasn't just “issuing formal, bland statements to the media”.

The tribunal is looking at allegations that senior gardaí were smearing the whistleblower to politicians, journalists and others. The DPP directed no prosecution following an allegation of sexual assault made in 2006 by Miss D against Sgt McCabe, saying that no offence had been disclosed.

Supt Ferris was questioned about queries sent to the garda press office in relation to Sgt McCabe in 2016 and 2017. Supt Taylor said that media emails seeking a comment from the commissioner on various issues would have been a standard media query and would have gone “up the line” for a response.

Supt Ferris said he was aware of a rumour that there was an allegation of sexual assault against Sgt McCabe, and that the DPP had directed no prosecution.

John Ferris. Pic: Collins

John Ferris. Pic: Collins

Supt Ferris said he was not privy to uncomplimentary comments against Sgt McCabe from former garda press officer Supt David Taylor,

"I dealt with him [Supt Taylor] professionally. If I didn't have to deal with him, I didn't deal with him," Supt Ferris said.

Retired assistant commissioner John O'Mahony, who was appointed by Commissioner Martin Callinan to investigate allegations into the quashing of penalty points on October 31, 2012, said that his investigation had three aspects; criminal, disciplinary, and evaluating garda systems and procedures.

"Commissioner Callinan never spoke to me in any derogatory manner about any of the whistleblowers," Mr O'Mahoney said.

Mr O'Mahony said the commissioner was not frustrated or angry when the Public Accounts Committee wanted to call Sgt McCabe to give evidence about the scandal in January 2014.

"I can only tell you what I saw first-hand in relation to the Commissioner," Mr O'Mahony said. "I didn't see that frustration, I didn't see that anger.

"There was concern that private information was appearing in public. That was his sole concern."

John O'Mahoney. Pic: Collins

John O'Mahoney. Pic: Collins

Mr O'Mahony said he knew former commissioner Martin Callinan since 1982 when they worked together in the Central Detective unit.

"I admired him as a hard worker, very exacting, wanted to do everything to a high standard, a very professional standard," Mr O'Mahony said.

Mr O'Mahony said he did not know former commissioner O'Sullivan as well as he did Mr Callinan, but he had a good working relationship with her.

Mr O'Mahony said he was given sufficient resources to investigate “ticket fixing” for road traffic offences.

He said that he began to suspect the identity of the anonymous whistleblowers providing information on penalty points cancellations, and this was later confirmed in December 2012.

He said he was aware of the 2006 allegation against Sgt McCabe, and that "a complaint had been made, it had been investigated and DPP had directed no prosecution”.

Mr O'Mahony said he felt "precluded" from speaking to the whistleblowers because of the laws around confidential reporting.

He told the tribunal that officers went to meet with an uncle of Sgt McCabe who said he had information in early 2013 "with an open mind in relation to what the information could have been”.

The inquiry was not intended to discredit Sgt McCabe, and was dealt with discreetly and did not become public knowledge, Mr O'Mahony said.

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