Following the conclusion of the first module of the Disclosures Tribunal, Michael Clifford looks
at how co-incidence after co-incidence after co-incidence occurred to damage the reputation of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe
THE 12 months between July 2013 and July 2014 were transformative for Maurice McCabe. During that period he went from being regarded as something of a chancer to being hailed of a man of courage and principle. His complaints of corruption in ticket fixing in the force was vindicated, after initially being rubbished. Dormant complaints of malpractice in criminal investigations were reopened and his concerns were similarly vindicated.
Public opinion towards him went through a sea change. He appeared to be emerging from six years in the wilderness since he first raised concerns.
At the beginning of that transformative 12 months, he had just come through a disciplinary process that looked like it had been manufactured. A computer seized from a priest had gone missing in Garda custody. The priest was convicted of child abuse charges and sentenced to five years in prison. But nobody could find the computer, on which it was suspected that there might be child pornography images.
McCabe was blamed, despite having nothing to do with the case or any exhibits attached to it. A disciplinary process on the case was initiated against him two months after he had begun complaining about the abuse of the penalty points system for road safety. The O’Higgins Inquiry would rule in 2016 that it was “understandable that he might connect the commencement of disciplinary proceedings with the complaints he had made a short time earlier and that he might feel aggrieved”. But he fought the charges and ultimately it was ruled that he was not in breach of discipline.
On the day he got word that that particular nightmare was over, another was about to begin. This one, however, would unfold behind closed doors, and it would be three and a half years before he learned what his character had been subjected to in that period.
On July 27, 2013, Ms D attended a counselling session with Rian, which is part of the HSE National Counselling Service in Cavan. Ms D is the woman who had made an allegation against McCabe in 2006, as laid out elsewhere on these pages. Rian is a service for adults who have experienced childhood abuse.
She attended with counsellor Laura Brophy because McCabe’s name had re-entered her orbit. “I began to hear Maurice McCabe’s name being mentioned and it affected me,” she said.
In July 2013, McCabe’s name had not appeared in either the broadcast or print media. It may well have been in circulation on social media, but only within confined circles. His name wouldn’t enter the mainstream media until January 23, 2014.
At the session, Ms D referred to her allegation from seven years previously. Ms Brophy noted it, although Ms D says she didn’t want anything more done about it. Afterwards, Ms Brophy contacted the child protection service Tusla and was told that the allegation was not on file. This was erroneous.
She therefore felt obliged to report it. And then came the catastrophic error. In writing up the allegation on a word processor, she mistakenly inserted three sentences from an entirely separate case involving completely different parties. The referral referenced an allegation of “vaginal and anal digital penetration” and a “threat against her father”. An allegation against McCabe that he had engaged years previously in a “horseplay” incident now read that he was being accused of child rape.
Tusla now had two references to an allegation against McCabe. The initial, relatively innocuous, one was taken over the phone. The erroneous one was delivered by email on August 12.
Three days after receiving the emailed report, Tusla social worker Keara McGlone wrote to Supt Noel Cunningham. He had investigated the original allegation, and McGlone was following up to check whether the new disclosure was the same at the original one. She used the correct, phoned-in report, in her letter. “I was just looking for clarification,” she said.
Cunningham didn’t respond. He was on extended leave and returned in September. He put the letter aside with the intention of eventually responding, but never got around to it.
“I regret not doing it and I should have dealt with it,” he said. He rejected any suggestion that he didn’t reply with the specific intention of allowing the matter to “fester”, which might cause trouble for McCabe.
At the tribunal, it was put to him that if he had responded the subsequent “debacle” could have been avoided. He rejected this.
Nobody told McCabe that the old allegation had resurfaced. Tusla did not contact him about the matter and wouldn’t do so for another two and a half years.
SIX months after Ms D visited the counsellor, McCabe’s name had become public through the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, where he was mentioned in the context of his complaints. This brought up issues for Ms D.
While she says she hadn’t wanted her allegation re-referred the previous August, now she wanted her story told. She felt that the public McCabe differed from the private McCabe she claimed to know from the incident on the couch.
“I wanted people to know he wasn’t the saint he was being portrayed as,” she said.
In February 2014 she was put in touch with the crime reporter, Paul Williams.
He interviewed her and subsequently wrote a series of articles for the Irish Independent.
She told Williams that McCabe had “ruined the careers” of a lot of gardaí, and broken up the family of gardaí in Cavan-Monaghan, although this did not appear in the articles. She said she wanted her case re-examined.
McCabe was not identified in the newsprint, but anybody who was any way familiar with his history or policing in Cavan would have been aware he was the subject.
In one piece Ms D says the so-called abuse sent her “into a downward spiral”.
She related how the perpetrator “closed the door and abused me for what seemed like a long time”. This was a completely different version of events to the allegation in 2006. This did not describe horseplay, but inferred serious sexual abuse. McCabe was not contacted by the reporter to present his side of this story.
Williams told the tribunal he did not contact McCabe because McCabe was not identified in the articles. Williams said he had details of the DPP’s decision on the matter confirmed by the Garda press office. He said that if he had seen the DPP’s decision into the original allegation he would have had a different view.
One notable feature of the interaction between the gardaí and the media on this matter was the absence of any documentary proof. The file on the allegation was in Bailieborough station. In other instances, where elements of the gardaí want information out in public, files are leaked to the media.
Despite McCabe being regarded as something of an enemy by management in the force, despite the swirling and malicious rumours, nobody leaked the file.
If it had been leaked, the innocuous nature of the allegation, and the dismissive response of the DPP, might have spoiled a good story, and an even better rumour.
Ms D’s efforts to get somebody to listen to her extended to visits to Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and former justice minister Alan Shatter, both arranged by Williams. Martin listened to her and referred her complaint to Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Shatter listened to her and two days later went into the Dáil and referenced an article on her case which by coincidence appeared in that day’s Irish Independent. He did not state that he had met the woman at the centre of this story.
Ms D also made a complaint to GSOC. In her statement, she alleged that a senior Garda colleague of her father, Supt John O’Reilly, had told her father that McCabe was seen hanging around a girl’s secondary school “looking at young ones”. This was entirely false and scurrilous, but typical of many of the rumours that had been generated about McCabe at the time. O’Reilly denied ever saying such a thing to Ms D’s father.
IN APRIL 2014, another social worker in Tusla, Laura Connolly, plucked the McCabe file from a cabinet and began composing a notification to alert the gardaí about a possible case of child abuse. The file with the erroneous allegation of child abuse had lain dormant since the previous August.
She had at hand the erroneous report but she also had the phone notes with the correct allegation, also dating from the previous August. She compiled the notification using both. In one draft the allegation turned out to be a case of child rape during a game of hide and seek.
She also prepared input records on the four McCabe children on the basis their father may be a danger to them. She based this on information gleaned from Ms D’s father in 2006. By April 2014, two of the children were over 18, and since 2006 the McCabes had had a fifth child.
At the tribunal, Ms Connolly said that in hindsight she should have checked before notifying the gardaí and she would have seen the unanswered letter to Cunningham. She told the tribunal that she was unaware of the public profile of Maurice McCabe until she was contacted by the tribunal last March. The name didn’t mean anything to her, even after the Prime Time programme on the debacle last February.
Judge Charleton asked her was she aware that Leo Varadkar was Taoiseach.
She was and she did listen to the news in her car, but not in a big way.
Ordinarily, a new notification to the gardaí would have been discussed at the following week’s regular case conference in Tusla. The McCabe notification was not brought up at that meeting. If it had been, the mistake would most likely have been detected.
The Garda notification was sent to Bailieborough station, arriving on May 7, 2014.
There, Supt Leo McGinn called in Ms D’s father, Mr D, who is a garda in the station, and asked him about this allegation of child rape against McCabe from his daughter.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Mr D said. “I saw the detail of the allegation, digital penetration and I couldn’t believe it. I got a fierce shock. I couldn’t think straight.”
He contacted his daughter who told him that was all wrong. She then rang the counsellor she had attended the previous August and angrily demanded to know how her allegation had been transformed into one of child rape.
Ms Brophy alerted Tusla to the mistake and set about trying to rectify it. This was reflected in an email social worker Eileen Argue sent to the head of Tusla in the north east, Gerry Lowry, on May 14, 2014.
“She [Laura Brophy] advised that there was information provided which did not relate to Ms D and was in relation to another person, against another man and not the man MmcC. This notification needs to be amended as soon as possible and the relevant superintendent updated with regard to same.”
Yet, despite the discovery of this horrendous error, there was more to come.
ONCE the mistake was discovered, a new notification was issued to the gardaí on the basis of Ms D’s original allegation. Why this was deemed necessary of a case that had been dealt with entirely some seven years previously is unknown. But, in any event, the new notification still contained the erroneous line about the alleged perpetrator threatening the girl’s father.
Through all of this, nobody contacted McCabe to inform him of how his reputation had been thrashed. Tusla didn’t deem it necessary. An Garda Siochana, McCabe’s employer, didn’t consider it appropriate.
In Bailieborough, Supt Leo McGinn had sent the notification containing the child rape allegation to his chief super, Jim Sheridan on the day he received it, May 7. Within days of sending it, McGinn was informed that it was erroneous.
Sheridan sent it onto Assistant Commissioner Kieran Kenny, who sent it to Garda HQ. So by July 2014, there was a report in Garda HQ labelling McCabe as a suspected child rapist. At the tribunal, most of this was put down to human error.
By then, all of the gardaí involved had been informed of the error but there was still the issue that Ms D had disclosed the original allegation again. What to do about that?
On July 16, 2014, a high-level garda meeting was called to sort out the mess.
Present were assistant commissioner Kieran Kenny, chief superintendent for the Cavan-Monaghan division James Sheridan, and Superintendent Leo McGinn.
They met in Mullingar, where McCabe was serving. He hadn’t an iota that any of this had been unfolding. The one man who wasn’t present, who could have told all the others the full story, was Noel Cunningham, who had investigated the original allegation. Yet he wasn’t asked.
The meeting mulled over what to do, whether this new referral was the old allegation or not, what to do about the “suspected offender”, and whether arrest was an option. Cunningham could have told them that the allegation had been entirely dismissed by both the DPP and the state solicitor, and that he himself hadn’t given it much credence either in recommending no prosecution.
By July 2014, McCabe had been vindicated. His concerns over the penalty points were finally seen to have had major substance. His complaints of malpractice in criminal investigations were largely upheld by the Guerin Inquiry and a full commission of investigation into the complaints was being set up.
Yet, in the very station where he was serving, senior gardaí were meeting to discuss him in terms that might be applied to somebody who was genuinely suspected of being a child abuser. The meeting was such that a question arises as to whether its content and tone can be ascribed to McCabe’s status as a whistleblower. Another, more benign, explanation might be that they were all panicking. Judge Charleton put this to Superintendent McGinn at the tribunal, but the witness rejected it.
One way or the other, nobody within An Garda Siochana, McCabe’s employer, told him what had occurred, how his reputation had been thrashed, and what was being done to rectify it. If he had been contacted, the final insult to Maurice McCabe and his family, would surely have been avoided.
IN MAY 2015, 12 months after the catastrophic error had been discovered, the McCabe file resurfaced again in Tusla. Social worker Kay McLoughlin plucked it out with a view to writing to the alleged perpetrator about the allegation, which is standard procedure.
Inexplicably, she used the false allegation that had been corrected in May 2014. There were 30 pages in the Ms D file, 19 of which either refer to the correct allegation or to the correction of the false allegation. Just six pages in the file read as if the false allegation still stood. Yet, the letter was compiled using the false allegation, telling McCabe that he may be considered to be a danger to children. McLoughlin said she didn’t examine the file in detail and put her actions down to human error.
She forwarded the draft letter to the area head of Tusla, Gerry Lowry for approval. He was aware of the original mistake, and that it had been corrected.
Yet, he told the tribunal, he didn’t open the attachment to the email he received from McLoughlin, on which the draft letter was written. So he approved the dispatch of the letter to a garda sergeant, who had been at the centre of a major error within the organisation, without fully informing himself of its contents.
The letter was sent on December 29, 2015. McCabe received it a few days later, reacted with horror, and set in train the events that led to the establishment of the Disclosures Tribunal.
When Gerry Lowry was giving evidence, a proposition was put to him by the counsel for the tribunal, Patrick Marrinan.
“There isn’t an error in his [McCabe’s] favour. Nobody made a mistake by which he benefited, do you understand?
“And there are those who may say that this litany of grave errors can’t just simply be coincidence after coincidence after coincidence that is being suggested, do you understand.”
Lowry replied that he understood.
“I think they are terrible errors consistently, but they were absolutely coincidences,” he said. “Bad file management.”
On December 6, 2006, Rhona Murphy took a call from a woman known as Mrs D. Murphy was a social worker with the child protection team in the HSE, based in Cavan. She had known Mrs D for more than a year, since Mrs D’s 14-year-old daughter, Ms D, was first referred to the child protection services.
That contact was based on a referral of Ms D over behaviour issues. “She was presenting with self-harming behaviour, running away from home, engaging in sexual activity and her parents had obviously expressed a lot of concern for her at that point,” Ms Murphy said.
Some of the girl’s activity had led to an arrest and a file being prepared for the DPP in 2005. None of this had anything to do with Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Now, some nine months after ending contact with the service, the mother was back again with a completely separate issue. Her daughter had made an allegation against a man. This concerned an alleged incident about eight years previously. She claimed that in a game of hide and seek in the man’s house, the man had held her against a couch. The world “humping” was used. Both parties were fully clothed.
Rhona Murphy took down the details. She visited Ms D at home. Ms D’s father, Mr D, was a colleague of Sgt Maurice McCabe. He told Ms Murphy that McCabe was the alleged perpetrator.
The previous January, McCabe had reported Mr D, for a disciplinary matter. Mr D had been off-duty and drinking after a funeral when word came through about a tragic suicide in a well-known family in Bailieborough. Mr D and the two colleagues had attended the scene in an intoxicated state. McCabe was the officer in charge at the scene.
He reported them and all three were disciplined. Mr D was transferred from the crime unit, to which he had recently been promoted, back to uniform work. Both Ms D and her father are adamant that that background had no influence on Ms D’s December 2006 allegation.
During Rhona Murphy’s home visit, Mr D also supplied her with details of where McCabe lived, the names and ages of McCabe’s four children.
Within the HSE, little was done by way of follow-up. There was no interview with Ms D to examine her credibility. This, Murphy said, was to avoid putting her through having to go over the incident. No contact was made with Sergeant McCabe, as would be routine in these matters.
Parallel to the HSE inquiries, a garda investigation was launched into the allegation. It was headed up by Inspector Noel Cunningham, who was based in Monaghan. During contact with the HSE, he made comments about Ms D which were recorded in notes as “credibility issues”, and “she’s spinning different stories” in relation to the allegation. Cunningham interviewed the various parties, including McCabe, whom he described as distressed during the interview.
A file was prepared for the DPP. The local state solicitor noted in a comment on the file that “even the allegation itself is unclear and amounts to horseplay and no more…in a house full of children with four adults in proximity”. On April 5, 2007, the DPP returned with a direction that there was no basis for prosecution. The direction noted that the allegation was vague, and that Ms D had given different versions of it to different people.
“Even if there wasn’t a doubt over her credibility, the incident that she describes does not constitute a sexual assault, or indeed an assault,” the DPP’s office ruled.
Although the direction was dispatched on April 5, Cunningham didn’t contact McCabe until April 24. The delay, Cunningham told the tribunal, was down to the fact that he had instructed that the direction be to his office only, due to confidentiality.
However, he was out of his office between April 5 and April 24 — seconded to Bailieborough station — and once he got back he opened his post, rang McCabe and Mr D.
He visited the D family first and told them the direction was no prosecution. He attempted to phone McCabe that day but couldn’t get through.
Unknown to Cunningham, McCabe had been informed privately of the direction from the state solicitor Rory Hayden on April 5. The delay in Cunningham officially informing him of this huge decision in his life was an obvious bone of contention for McCabe.
Eventually, the pair met at a hotel in Bailieborough. McCabe was accompanied by a representative from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, which Cunningham found unusual.
Cunningham conveyed that there would be no prosecution, but he did not give any details of how emphatic the result had been. Under the rules at the time he was not empowered to do so.
“I wasn’t entitled to tell him,” Cunningham told the tribunal.
All the evidence is that McCabe was unhappy with how matters had been handled.
“I never had a falling out with Maurice McCabe,” Cunningham said. “I have no difficulty with him but I think he may have a difficulty with me as a result of the investigation.”
In October 2007, six months after the investigation was complete, Ms D and her mother Mrs D confronted McCabe on the street in Bailieborough He was forced to “retreat into the station”.
He found the experience highly unsettling. In conversation with his superintendent, it was agreed that it would be advantageous for the D family to be supplied with the full directions of the DPP to demonstrate that the allegation was found to be effectively baseless. A request to have this done was denied as it would have contravened regulations at the time. (Today, it is possible to have reasons given for a decision not tofailure to prosecute).
In that same month, October 2007, the file on the matter in the HSE was closed under a heading “inconclusive”.
This, despite the dearth of evidence or credibility, or even examination of the allegation.
It would be nearly 10 years before the child protection service finally deemed the allegation to have no credibility and McCabe not to be any danger to children.
During the time, his life would be upended, his reputation trashed, and within the child protection services, and elements of the gardaí, he would be branded a child rapist.
Some within An Garda Síochána believe that the sequence of events in 2006-7 had a transformative effect on McCabe. Cunningham told the tribunal that McCabe had commented afterward that “the investigation changed him completely and he trusted nobody”.
From McCabe’s perspective, it would appear that he was disappointed at how some elements in the force had dealt with the issue. He had been a dedicated garda, lauded by his superiors and well regarded by the public.
Along came this allegation which he believed was entirely associated with his work. While many of his colleagues had sympathy for his predicament, some, McCabe felt, did not respond in a manner he would have expected.
In an organisation known for circling the wagons when something goes wrong, there was no circling for McCabe when it was found he had done nothing wrong.
In March 2008, he resigned from his post as sergeant-in- charge at Bailieborough over frustration at what he claimed was gross mismanagement. A month later, he made an official complaint.
And so began the phase of his life in which he became an outcast within the force. In the end, his complaints were entirely vindicated, and considered to have been a major public service in tackling malpractice within the force.
Few would argue that he paid an enormous price for rendering the service.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved