Everybody knew that the famous sports figure had abused the child. Everybody knew he was the man at the centre of the X case, in which a 14-year-old girl was initially stopped from travelling to the UK for an abortion in 1992.
Everybody knew he was the man who had impregnated the girl. Or something like that. Even the dogs in the street were aware of the details.
So went the rumour — elevated to the status of Gospel — around the country over two decades ago. The sportsman had been a popular figure but that didn’t stop the “truth” spreading like wildfire.
Eventually, he felt compelled to come out publicly in the media to deny it, doing so first in the pages of the Sunday World and subsequently on the Kenny Live programme on RTÉ television.
His plea of innocence, and his account of what the rumour had done to him, his family and his business, tugged at the public’s heart strings. Everybody sighed relief that it wasn’t true. Everybody wondered how such a vicious and baseless rumour could have come to be so widely accepted.
Swap a popular sportsman for a garda whistleblower, reviled by large sections of the organisation he had sworn to serve.
Soon after Maurice McCabe began highlighting malpractice in An Garda Síochána in 2008 the rumours began to spread around Cavan and Monaghan.
The first one concerned his marriage. He had left the family home. Of course that made sense. His wife probably gave him the door. She saw what a toerag he was, telling tales from behind the blue wall, and realised she could no longer live with such a human being.
Then there was the other woman. While he was sergeant in charge at Bailieborough station, McCabe had received a complaint of sexual harassment from a young female garda. He acted immediately to have the perpetrator transferred to another unit.
The female garda’s complaint of harassment was included in the internal Garda investigation into McCabe’s complaints of malpractice, and ultimately upheld.
But some put two and two together and we all know by now that certain members of An Garda Síochána aren’t the best at sums.
McCabe was having an affair with the female garda. That made sense. Hadn’t he sorted her out in the station, and now he’d left his wife and five children and was shacked up with her?
His life was in turmoil as a result of his whistleblowing. Or his redundant complaints can be explained by his turbulent life. Or whatever, as long as the rumour does its work to blacken his character.
Those baseless rumours only had a short shelf life. While hurtful to all concerned, they were easily discounted. But there was worse to come.
By 2013, McCabe was discommoding not just gardaí in Cavan Monaghan but senior officers across the country. He had complained about the widespread fixing of speeding tickets within the upper echelons of the force.
Such upheaval of the way things were done required the creation of the basest rumour of them all. Everybody knows that the guy highlighting corruption has questions to answer himself. Everybody knows he’s a kiddie fiddler.
In this instance, there was something to work with for those minded to twist the truth beyond recognition.
In 2006, the daughter of a colleague, who had been disciplined after McCabe reported him, made an allegation. She claimed that McCabe had touched her inappropriately eight years previously during a game of hide and seek in the McCabe home.
The allegation had precious little credibility. The DPP, who received a file on it, concluded that the girl had told different stories, lacked credibility and in any event the allegation wasn’t even criminal in nature. The local state solicitor described the allegation, if it occurred at all, as “horseplay and no more”.
But so what? Those who wanted to blacken McCabe battered the life out of the facts, repackaged them in slime and sent them forth to multiply into a malicious rumour.
The Charleton Tribunal, investigating whether McCabe was smeared, has been told that TD John McGuinness and senior civil servant Seamus McCarthy will both claim to have been told by former commissioner Martin Callinan in January 2014 that McCabe was being investigated for child sexual abuse offences. Callinan has denied this to the tribunal.
He says he didn’t say any such thing to McCarthy and that when he met McGuinness the TD was aware that there had been an allegation against McCabe and a decision not to proceed with charges.
An example of what was being peddled emerged at the tribunal on Monday. The tribunal was told the colleague’s daughter made a complaint to Gsoc about how the case was handled in 2006-7. (Gsoc ultimately dismissed the complaint.)
In her statement, she related that she was told McCabe would “hang around girls’ secondary school, looking at young ones”. She also suggested that there was another girl in Clones, where McCabe had served, with a similar allegation to hers. All of this was complete lies and being peddled around the place to dispatch McCabe’s reputation to the gutter.
Listening to this stuff spill out in Dublin Castle can be a chastening experience. What was heard in evidence is the tiniest example of the kind of rumours that were retailed about McCabe right through the force, in the media and politics, and into elements of the wider public.
Walk for a minute in his shoes. Sit in his seat at the tribunal. Imagine hearing that people were talking about you in these terms. Imagine how it must feel to know you were being portrayed far and wide as somebody who would prey on children.
The power of the rumour is awesome. Most of us like to gossip in a casual manner. Many who pass on rumours don’t do so with malicious intent. Some even issue the lies in embarrassed whispers, as if attempting to genuinely find out if there could be any truth to it.
That was the case to a large extent with the sports figure referenced above. Few among the general population would have harboured animus towards that man. If anything, the whispers were tempered with sadness.
When the rumour is fuelled by malicious intent, its power is hugely amplified. Now you have people spreading it who want to believe it, who want the world to know that the subject is a person of ill repute because it suits their own personal agenda.
In the case of Maurice McCabe there was malicious intent among a considerable cohort who spread the muck.
The rumours were not a function of idle gossip, but weapons to be used in an attempt to destroy him because he was upsetting a way of life, highlighting what was wrong with policing.
In such a milieu, the orbiting lie takes on a terrifying power. At last though, as evidence spills out of the tribunal, the truth is taking to the skies.
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