If the business of the Charleton tribunal was proposed for a movie script, it would be rejected as beyond belief. Too many coincidences, too many mistakes. Too much that requires the suspension of belief, writes Michael Clifford.
Yesterday, tribunal chair Judge Peter Charleton aired one of the strange coincidences. The witness was Laura Brophy, the counsellor who in 2013 made “a catastrophic error” in mistakenly describing a relatively innocuous allegation against Sgt Maurice McCabe as one of a most serious sexual abuse.
This followed a counselling session with Ms D, the daughter of a colleague of Sgt McCabe, who was retelling an allegation she had made some seven years before.
The allegation had been one of inappropriately touching her, and been investigated by the gardaí and DPP, which recommended no prosecution.
Judge Charleton outlined a coincidence in timing between the counselling session in 2013 and another event in the life of the Garda whistleblower.
In early July 2013, a few weeks before Ms D attended counselling, Sgt McCabe was subjected to a disciplinary hearing. This concerned a computer which had gone missing from Bailieboro station in 2007 when he was station sergeant.
The computer had been seized from a child-abusing priest and there had been a suspicion it had contained child pornography. Sgt McCabe had nothing to do with the investigation or the storing of exhibits, yet when the matter came to light in 2010, he was the one targeted for disciplinary action. By then, he was reporting malpractice in the gardaí and was not a popular figure among swathes of the force.
The disciplinary process eventually cleared him but the O’Higgins commission noted it was understandable Sgt McCabe felt he had been “targeted” because of his whistleblowing.
Around the time that matter was reaching a head behind the closed doors of the force, a counselling session was taking place behind other closed doors.
Following that counselling session, Ms D’s allegation dating from 2006 was mistakenly recorded as one involving “digital and anal penetration”, and a threat against Ms D’s father if she told anybody about it. The information was erroneously lifted from an entirely separate case.
So now there were two issues involving child abuse associated with Sgt McCabe — both entirely false — doing the rounds.
Judge Charleton put to the counsellor, Ms Brophy, a hypothetical scenario around the matter. “It is a coincidence of circumstances which would appear to indicate that if you were so minded by making this error deliberately it would have created an enormous amount of trouble for Sgt McCabe. So, in light of all that, would you countenance doing such a thing deliberately?”
Ms Brophy recoiled at the suggestion. “There’s no way I would ever do anything like that,” she said. “It is really unfortunate, I had no idea there was this other case that Mr McCabe was being asked about. I can see how it would be catastrophic. I would never be complicit in something like that.”
Judge Charleton had to ask the question. His whole brief is to investigate whether there was a campaign to blacken Sgt McCabe’s name. And part of that will be to identify blunders, conspiracies, and coincidences.
The biggest blunder revealed yesterday was the failure to properly amend the biggest blunder of all. Once the erroneous allegation was discovered in May 2014, the error was corrected. But not really. The line that suggested Sgt McCabe had threatened the girl’s father was left in. Unbelievably, there was still a false allegation in circulation about Sgt McCabe.
The length of time the erroneous allegation remained unacted on must have been another blunder. The allegation entered the system in August 2013, and action was only initiated in April 2014. What if this case had involved somebody who was a danger to children? Where was the urgency?
The other effect of this slow train coming was that the erroneous, grievous allegation against Sgt McCabe was in circulation through all that length of time.
There was more messing about in the child protection services. Ms Brophy informed the service about the allegation because she had been told there was nothing on file about Ms D. Yet a report, compiled a few days later, refers to the previous allegation being on file.
Ms Brophy also confirmed to the tribunal that on discovery of the error, there was, as far as she knew, no effort to contact Sgt McCabe and tell him what had occurred.
So far, all of these issues appear to have an innocent explanation. The tribunal’s brief is to continue to probe to check whether, in the midst of blunders and coincidences, anything was used to attack Sgt McCabe’s character.
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