False allegations of a most grievous nature were made against Sgt Maurice McCabe, at great distress to him and his family. Serious questions must now be answered, writes Michael Clifford.
ON WEDNESDAY, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin told the Dáil he had been contacted by a journalist who told him that he, the journalist had direct knowledge of “calls made by the garda commissioner to journalists during 2013 and 2014 in the course of which the commissioner made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Garda Maurice McCabe”.
The revelation threw into the public domain something that had been common currency in politics, the garda and policing for the last four years. Scurrilous rumours about Sergeant McCabe had circulated in a manner that some believed was designed to damage his credibility, and even destroy his character.
The rumours were largely based on a file in the child protection agency Tusla which was created in 2013. How that file was created, and what was done about it raises the most troubling questions for both Tusla and An Garda Síochána, which was aware of its existence.
According to the file a young woman made a historic allegation against Sgt McCabe in August 2013. The allegation was made to a counsellor employed by a counselling service in the north east.
This woman alleged that when she was a child she was subjected by Sgt McCabe to the worst form of abuse, including “anal and vaginal penetration”. There was very little detail of circumstances of the incident apart from the actual abuse. The accusation is completely without any foundation.
The young woman comes from a garda family. The allegation was passed to a member of An Garda Síochána by the counsellor. The Irish Examiner understands that it was passed to a member who was known to the counsellor. His or her identity is not known to Tusla, but it is crucial in everything that followed.
It is unusual for a counsellor in this scenario to go straight to the gardaí rather than through a social worker in Tusla. The file was sent to Bailiboro, where Sgt McCabe has not worked since 2008. It was sent there on the basis that that was the local station to his home. This is incorrect.
Ordinarily, a file of this nature would be sent from the local station on to the head office in the region, at Monaghan, and the divisional office in Sligo. On the basis that Sgt McCabe was a high- profile individual at the time, it is highly likely it was also sent to Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park.
Over the following months, there was no attempt to arrest or interview Sgt McCabe. The Irish Examiner understands there was no attempt by the gardaí to interview the complainant. The file was just let sit there, while word either spread organically, or was spread deliberately, about its contents.
This was around the time that Sgt McCabe was in the public spotlight over abuse of the penalty points system, in which he alleged dozens of senior officers were cancelling traffic tickets for friends and family.
By the following May, things had changed. The Public Accounts Committee had heard from McCabe and were reported to be impressed and disturbed by what he had presented the committee with. The Guerin Report into Sgt McCabe’s allegations of malpractice in criminal investigations had also vindicated him.
That same month, it was discovered that a major mistake had been made. The counsellor wrote to Tusla saying “it has come to my attention that a report I made to you contained an administrative error”.
The “error” has also been characterised as a “clerical error”, and elsewhere as a “cut and paste” error. There is no explanation as to how an innocent man could be the subject of the most grievous accusation as a result of a clerical error.
A further note in the file from June 2, 2014, suggests that the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan may have been either already aware of the matter or was about to be brought into the loop. The note refers to “the retrospective report which you are aware contains a clerical error”.
“I was informed that the superintendent in the jurisdiction referred to in the report was not yet aware of the clerical error and has been asked to a meeting with the garda commissioner in relation to the case.”
It is unclear whether the meeting referred to took place, or if it did, whether the superintendent and the commissioner were aware that the original report was now known to be false.
Ms O’Sullivan has denied claims she was involved, or was aware, of any smear campaign against Sgt McCabe.
The complainant was contacted a number of times by Tusla after August 2013, but failed to keep appointments, according to the file. In August 2016, she responded that she wanted nothing more to do with the matter.
In January 2016, Sgt McCabe was contacted by Tusla about an allegation and told that he would have to be interviewed.
“We will have to decide if you pose a risk to children,” the letter stated.
This was an error, committed by somebody in Tusla who was unaware that the original “error” had been discovered some 18 months previously.
Understandably, the contact to Sgt McCabe caused great distress to him and his family.
The Tusla file also contained the names of four of the five children of Maurice and Lorraine McCabe. This is standard procedure in the case of a suspected child abuser. It is unclear how the names of the children were obtained. Each of the four referred to in the file has their name prefixed with the word “suspect”.
If Sgt McCabe had not been contacted in January 2016 — in what is now accepted was a complete error — it is highly unlikely that he would ever have been made aware of the whole affair. His children would have remained on the file into adulthood.
He was not contacted by the gardaí, of which he is a member, in 2013 when the allegation surfaced, or the following year when it was found to be completely false.
His case was not referred to the data commissioner when the error was discovered, as it should have been. In such an instance, the data commissioner would then have contacted him.
A host of serious questions arise, the most pertinent of which is whether there should be a criminal investigation into the matter and if so, whom should conduct it.
Other questions include:
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