Allegations against Maurice McCabe ‘peddled’ to newsrooms, tribunal hears
‘My antenna was up, I felt something wasn’t right,’ John Kierans tell Charleton tribunal
John Kierans, editor-in-chief of the Irish Daily Mirror, at the Charleton tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Allegations against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe were being “peddled” to newsrooms in Dublin, a national newspaper editor has told the Charleton tribunal.
The tribunal is looking at allegations by Superintendent David Taylor that he was directed when he was Garda Press Officer to smear Sgt McCabe. Former commissioners Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan deny there was any smear campaign.
Irish Daily Mirror editor-in-chief John Kierans said he was never “negatively briefed” by Supt Taylor, but he subsequently learned that “the story had been peddled to other newsrooms around town”.
Tribunal Chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton repeated that there was an obligation on any journalist who had information about allegations against Sgt McCabe to come forward, and “if people say they have privilege but they know something, I’d much rather know that than for them to simply sit in their office blocks and not come to the tribunal and not communicate”.
He continued: “I regard it as not a legal obligation but much much more serious than that, a patriotic obligation of people who know something to come forward so that the people of Ireland aren’t left in the daft situation that people who know things in the journalism profession have not come forward, but nonetheless will be able to write articles about what happened to them in the aftermath of the tribunal report.”
Mr Justice Charleton said that if journalists did not come forward, it could affect their credibility and cause damage to media outlets.
Mr Kierans said that in early 2014, crime reporter Cathal McMahon came to him with “a cracking story” that Sgt McCabe had been questioned about alleged sexual abuse and that this was confirmed by the Garda Press Office.
In 2007 the DPP directed no prosecution after a Garda investigation into abuse allegations made by Miss D, saying no evidence of a crime was disclosed.
“But my antenna was up, I felt something wasn’t right,” Mr Kierans said.
Mr Kierans said it was one thing for someone to be questioned by police, but there had been no charges so he took a decision to hold off.
“As an editor I always follow my gut instinct, and I’m glad I did on this one,” Mr Kierans said.
Mr Kierans said that it “alarmed” him that the Garda Press Office was confirming an allegation against one of their own members. He said he had forgotten about the allegation as Mr McMahon was no longer working with the paper, until Mr McMahon’s name came up in passing and it “triggered a memory”.
Mr McMahon told the tribunal that after he heard an allegation about Sgt McCabe in January or February 2014, he contacted Supt Taylor in the Garda Press Office.
Mr McMahon said that Supt Taylor confirmed the story to him, and “the only addition was he said maybe I should go to Cavan”.
“My information was the allegation related to the alleged sexual assault of a child in Cavan,” Mr McMahon said. The source of the allegation was not a Garda and Supt Taylor did not name anyone to talk to in Cavan, Mr McMahon said.
David Ferry BL, on behalf of Supt Taylor, suggested that it was his client who had briefed Mr McMahon and not the other way around, but that Supt Taylor had not suggested the witness should go to Cavan.
“That is not correct,” Mr McMahon said.
Mr McMahon said that he spoke to his editor, Mr Kierans, and sought guidance about the allegation. The story was not pursued and Mr McMahon did not go to Cavan.
Mr McMahon said he had not come forward earlier to the tribunal as he had not written any story about Sgt McCabe, he was not negatively briefed and was not named by Supt Taylor as a journalist who was negatively briefed.
Separately, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly told the tribunal that after Sgt McCabe told her about a meeting with Supt Taylor, she and fellow Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace went to meet with the superintendent.
Ms Daly said that prior to meeting with Supt Taylor, she had been aware of “whispering allegations” about Sgt McCabe dating from around the time of a 2014 Paul Williams article about abuse allegations against an unnamed Garda officer.
When she and Mr Wallace met Supt Taylor, the former press officer told them his job was to “tip off” journalists that Sgt McCabe was driven by revenge. The TD said her recollection was that Supt Taylor talked a lot about phone text messages, and those text messages were part of a campaign to undermine Sgt McCabe.
Ms Daly said Supt Taylor said his phones had been seized during a Garda investigation into media leaks and “bleached”. She said she was given the impression that if there was phone evidence “it had been well destroyed by now”.
Ms Daly said that she was not contacted by Supt Taylor or anyone else to correct the public record when she spoke about text messages in the Dáil and in media interviews.
In evidence at the tribunal earlier this year, Supt Taylor said that the directions he was given to smear Sgt McCabe were verbal.
“Dave Taylor was saying he had been given a job to feed the media and the evidence of that was to be destroyed,” Ms Daly said.
Ms Daly said she had been dealing with Sgt McCabe since 2011 and they had been aware of efforts to undermine Sgt McCabe. What Supt Taylor said about a campaign was not news, it was their “direct experience”, she added.
Ms Daly said that Sgt McCabe’s appearance as a serving Garda before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was “borderline revolutionary to be honest”.
When then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan told the Committee he found the behaviour of whistleblowers “disgusting”, he “had revealed his true colours”, Ms Daly said.
Retired detective superintendent John McCann said that he did not talk to his daughter, journalist Debbie McCann, about allegations against Sgt McCabe or any other matters he had learned in his work.
“If I wanted to give my daughter a story, there are lots of stories I could give her, without passing on some rumour. But that’s not the way she and I worked,” Mr McCann said.