Charleton Tribunal: Rumour nearly ruined Maurice McCabe's reputation

Former commissioner Martin Callinan and present Garda boss Nóirín O'Sullivan.
Former commissioner Martin Callinan and present Garda boss Nóirín O'Sullivan.

If elements in the gardaí were intent on smearing Sgt Maurice McCabe they had something to use as the basis for attacking his character, writes Michael Clifford.

All that smear requires is a rumour, an incident, an allegation that can be twisted and spun to suit the needs of an agenda.

The Charleton Tribunal is tasked with finding out whether this was the case, particularly in 2013 and 2014 when Sgt McCabe was making serious allegations of malpractice in the force.

The tribunal yesterday outlined details of a highly unusual allegation that was made against Sgt McCabe in December 2006 by a teenage girl. She walked into Bailieboro Garda Station with her parents and claimed that eight years previously, when she was six, McCabe had had inappropriate contact with her.

The girl — referred to as Ms D — claimed she had been visiting the McCabe family home with her parents.

She said that in the course of a game of hide and seek, McCabe had grabbed her and tickled her and engaged in a “humping” motion, although both parties were fully clothed. This, she alleged, persisted for a brief period of time until somebody came towards the room.

McCabe denied the allegation completely. An investigation was opened and statements taken from the girl, her parents, Sgt McCabe and his wife Lorraine.

McCabe denied there ever was even an occasion on which such an incident could have occurred.

Lorraine McCabe said she never knew Maurice to play hide and seek with anybody apart from their own children or her two nieces. She said the girl’s parents visited their home a number of times, but that contact had discontinued by 1998, and that she could only ever recall the parents bringing their daughter once.

Yesterday’s hearing didn’t provide any detail about Ms D’s family or background. This, presumably, was on the basis of protecting her anonymity.

However, some details are already in the public domain from various sources, including an interview with Ms D published in the Irish Times.

Her father worked with Sgt McCabe and had, in 2004, applied for the sergeant-in-charge job of which McCabe was the successful applicant. In January 2006, McCabe had reported the girl’s father over a disciplinary issue and he was subsequently disciplined. Ms D has denied vehemently that her allegation is in any way connected to the history between her father and Sgt McCabe.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton: The tribunal won’t examine issues around a 2006 allegation against Sgt McCabe. Picture: Collins
Mr Justice Peter Charleton: The tribunal won’t examine issues around a 2006 allegation against Sgt McCabe. Picture: Collins

The allegation was investigated in early 2007. A file was compiled for the DPP by inspector Noel Cunningham, who recommended no prosecution on the basis of the available evidence and the nature of the incident, which, he said, probably didn’t constitute a crime even if it had been proven.

The state solicitor for Cavan agreed. In April 2007, the DPP issued its direction that no prosecution was to be taken, and also referred to the alleged incident as “not being an assault let alone a sexual assault”, even. A year later Sgt McCabe began making allegations of malpractice in the force.

An internal investigation, headed by an assistant commissioner Derek Byrne, upheld some of McCabe’s complaints and not others in 2010. (Subsequently the O’Higgins Commission of Inquiry upheld nearly all of malpractice claims).

The internal inquiry went on for 18 months. Nowhere in the investigation report was there any suggestion that McCabe was motivated by any malice in bringing his complaints of malpractice.

There was no reference to, or inference about, the 2006 allegation. There was no connection whatsoever made between the allegation and McCabe’s claims of malpractice.

Fast forward to 2013. By now, McCabe is making claims of malpractice about not just members in the Cavan/Monaghan division, but senior officers across the State for fixing speeding tickets and erasing penalty points.

In July that year, Ms D was attending counselling about an unrelated matter. She revealed the 2006 allegation, which, the tribunal heard yesterday, got mixed up with a more serious case involving alleged “digital penetration” of a young girl.

The tribunal will examine whether what happened here was a serious error, or something else.

Yesterday it was also revealed that in February 2014 a friend of Ms D’s father approached him and asked whether he would meet the journalist Paul Williams with a view to Ms D telling her story.

Subsequently an article appeared in Mr Williams’ paper, the Irish Independent, based on an interview with Ms D.

Another strand of inquiry will concern whether at the O’Higgins inquiry there was an attempt by the Garda commissioner to use the 2006 allegation to attack McCabe’s character.

At the inquiry, the commissioner’s counsel did say that he would be attacking McCabe’s motivation for making the complaint. In a written submission to the inquiry, on behalf of the commissioner, a narrative alleged malice on McCabe’s part was laid out. This had as its origin the fallout from the 2006 allegation.

The tribunal also heard yesterday that the former Garda press officer David Taylor has alleged that he was instructed by then commissioner, Martin Callinan, to brief journalists that McCabe was motivated by malice, originating in the 2006 allegation.

The tribunal is not going to examine issues around the 2006 allegation which is a pity because the very least McCabe deserves is to have the whole thing thrashed out in public after he and his family have had to endure a heavy ordeal for over a decade.

Understandably, with the matter involving somebody who was a minor at the time, Judge Charleton appears reluctant to go there.

McCabe was in the public gallery for yesterday’s opening statement. What he heard about how his character and reputation were allegedly grievously thrashed cannot have been easy.

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