What stands out is the treatment meted out to the whistleblower within the force, writes Michael Clifford
ACCORDING to the O’Higgins report Maurice McCabe has done the State some service.
But what of the treatment of McCabe within the force as he attempted to have the serious issues of malpractice addressed?
O’Higgins says that McCabe “is a man of integrity, whom the public can trust in the exercise of his duties”.
He had acted out of “genuine and legitimate concerns… has shown courage, and performed a genuine public service at considerable personal cost”.
The retired judge does say that McCabe was prone to exaggeration in places, but put yourself in his shoes, running into brick walls and rejection for seven years while he attempted to have the issues addressed. Would you be prone to exaggeration at the end of all that?
What stands out in the report in relation to McCabe is the treatment that was meted out to him within the force while he was trying to have the issues addressed.
O’Higgins highlights five separate incidences in which there were attempts to blame McCabe for poor policing or worse himself. Four of those relate to cases he had brought to the attention of his superior officers to be addressed.
The fifth, probably the most sinister, involved an attempt to blame him for the disappearance of a computer seized from a priest who was convicted of child sexual abuse.
In each case, O’Higgins deems that McCabe was targeted in the wrong. Where there was a conflict of evidence between McCabe and other garda officers, O’Higgins accepted McCabe’s version of events.
In relation to the most serious case — that of Jerry McGrath who went on to commit murder — O’Higgins reports that McCabe “had reason to believe that he was being ‘set up’ and wrongly implicated”.
The retired judge finds such fears “unproven” but one is ultimately expected to accept that it’s merely coincidences that McCabe was wrongly blamed in so many cases.
Jerry McGrath committed what was characterised as a “vicious assault” on taxi driver Mary Lynch, in Virginia, Co Cavan, in 2007. He was charged with a minor offence initially and released on station bail. He subsequently attempted to abduct a child in Tipperary, but was released on bail again. That court was not told that he was already on bail in Cavan. He went on weeks later to murder Sylvia Roche Kelly.
In an earlier investigation, there was an attempt to blame Sgt McCabe for releasing McGrath. The judge rejected that.
“The commission accepts Sergeant McCabe had no role in the investigation of the offences committed by Mr McGrath, nor in his detention or release.”
In Janaury 2008, when McGrath was due before the court on the assault charge, Mary Lynch got a call telling her the matter wouldn’t be dealt with on the day in question. This denied Ms Lynch her day in court when she may have aired her grievance on how the gardaí had handled the matter.
One garda said he was instructed by McCabe to make the call. McCabe emphatically denied this, and O’Higgins preferred his evidence to that of his colleague.
In a case of alleged sexual assault in Cootehill, a garda told the O’Higgins commission that McCabe had told her release the suspect from custody.
O’Higgins reported, “It is unlikely that Sergeant McCabe would have authorised the suspect’s release,” before providing a detailed explanation for his conclusion.
In a case of dangerous driving that had not been properly investigated, there was an attempt to say that Sergeant McCabe — who complained about the investigation — had actually conducted it himself.
“Sergeant McCabe did not take over the investigation from the gardaí in Virginia… nor was he asked to do so,” O’Higgins concluded.
The worst example was the missing computer. McCabe had no role in the investigation, and did not take custody of the computer. Yet when the computer went missing, a disciplinary inquiry was initiated, which targeted him and him alone.
O’Higgins concluded: “It is difficult to understand why Sergeant McCabe was the only person subjected to disciplinary proceedings for the loss of the computer. The decision was based on a paper review in which there was a clear conflict of fact. It was the first time in a long career that he faced such proceedings. He was, quite rightly, exonerated.”
That exoneration, however, only came after 18 months of a deeply stressful time for him and his family.
O’Higgins makes no connection or observes no pattern between the five instances above.
He does note that many organisations are instinctively hostile to whistleblowers. “Any criticism from within is regarded as suspect, disloyal or even treacherous,” he reports.
Whether that kind of attitude informed the attempts to blame Sgt McCabe for some of the malpractice that he had dragged into the light is not a subject the chair of the commission explored.
Members of the public will have to make up their own minds.
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