The Disclosure Tribunal got straight down to business yesterday at 10.06am.
By the standards of these affairs it took off at lightning speed, examining whether Sergeant Maurice McCabe was subjected to a blackening of his character because he complained of malpractice in An Garda Siochana.
The starting point for the inquiry concerns a distasteful allegation from 2006 against McCabe of inappropriately touching a young girl. This occurred when McCabe was sergeant-in-charge of Bailieborough station in Co Cavan, at a time when, it has since emerged, there were serious problems with policing in the district. The allegation came from the daughter of a colleague.
Yesterday, the tribunal heard that there were issues around the credibility of the allegation, the history of the complainant, and the manner in which the matter was dealt with by the child protection services.
A chilling picture emerged of the fate that can befall a citizen accused of a child-related offence, irrespective of the credibility of such an allegation.
The starting point for much of this was December 6, 2006, when the child protection arm of the HSE got a call from Mrs D, mother of Ms D, the complainant. At the time, Ms D was about 14. Social worker Rhona Murphy told the tribunal Ms D claimed that, eight years previously, during a visit to Sgt McCabe’s home, he engaged in a game with her and other children, in which he “held Ms D over a sofa, everybody was fully clothed, and the word humping was used to describe the motion”.
By December 2006, Ms D had been on the radar of child protection services for over a year. In September 2005, she had begun engaging with the service. The earlier matter involved “sexual behaviour”, which, the tribunal heard, involved “a garda investigation, arrest, and file being prepared”. None of this had anything to do with Sgt McCabe.
Then came this allegation against her father’s colleague. Ms Murphy was yesterday brought through the response within the child protection service to the allegation.
Ms D was not interviewed. She was not the subject of any test of credibility. Ms Murphy said this was because the service worked from a statement that Ms D had made to the gardaí about the allegation. (The DPP ultimately ruled there was nothing to it.)
Ms Murphy visited Ms D at her home, and spoke with her parents. Ms D’s father gave Ms Murphy details of Sgt McCabe’s wife and children. Ms Murphy said she did not engage during that visit with Ms D over the substance of the allegation. Neither did anybody in the service contact Sgt McCabe. Such contact would have given the child protection service the opportunity to see whether he posed a threat to children.
None of this was done, despite minutes of meetings in the service detailing intentions to do so.
Ms Murphy was asked by Michael McDowell, for Sgt McCabe, about notes she had taken from a conversation with the inspector investigating the claim. These included phrases “doubts about credibility” and “spinning different stories”, referring to Ms D.
Despite all that, the file on Ms D’s allegation against Sgt McCabe was closed in October 2007. The file categorised the outcome of the allegation as “inconclusive”, despite the absence of any check of credibility of Ms D, nor of assessment of Sgt McCabe.
Again, Sgt McCabe was not contacted about it, nor informed that details had been taken about his wife and children.
The second witness was Mary O’Reilly, a line manager for Ms Murphy. She confirmed that, on the basis of the contents of the file, Sgt McCabe would not be considered any danger to children.
Ordinarily, that may have been the end of the matter, notwithstanding the grave omissions by the social services.
Then it resurfaced in 2013. By then, Sgt McCabe’s status in the force had changed. He had made complaints of malpractice in 2008, and in 2012 had made complaints about widespread “ticket-fixing” for road traffic offences.
Ms D approached counselling services in April 2013. She was assessed in July and August by counsellor Laura Brophy, who gave evidenceyesterday afternoon. In the course of the assessment, the tribunal heard, she disclosed the earlier allegation.
Ms Brophy made notes about the disclosure that included the details:
As is now known, Sgt McCabe was forced out of Bailieborough over his claims of malpractice. There was nothing in the 2006 allegation concerning “molestation”.
There was nothing in yesterday’s evidence as to whether Ms D made any disclosure to Ms Brophy about the issues that arose in her life in 2005, before she made the allegations against McCabe.
Ms Brophy contacted social services about the disclosure. Had she been informed the matter was on file and had been dealt with, she would have done no more, she told the tribunal. But the response she got was that there was nothing about it on file.
Ms Brophy filled out a retrospective disclosure form where a devastating error occurred. In the box to be filled out for description of an allegation, three sentences apparently lifted from a separate case were inserted. The minor allegation against Sgt McCabe was now recorded as one involving “digital penetration, both vaginal and anal” and a threat against the complainant’s father if she were to reveal anything.
Another mishap, but it would have major consequences for Sgt McCabe. The error would not be discovered until next May, some nine months later.
Ms Brophy admitted her error once it was brought to her attention by Ms D, who had learned of it from gardaí.
“That was my first discovery of the error,” Ms Brophy told the tribunal.
“I immediately saw the issue. I apologised and said I will try to resolve this, that I would contact the social services immediately.”
The tribunal must now determine whether or not this erroneous allegation was used by anybody in the gardaí to smear Sgt McCabe.
Yesterday he watched proceedings from the public gallery in the company of his wife, Lorraine. The evidence could not have made for easy listening.
Tomorrow, Ms Brophy will be cross examined by counsel for Sgt McCabe.
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