Bad blood in Bailieboro – and questions for Charleton tribunal

Did the growing mistrust between McCabe and his colleagues tip over into smears?

Maurice McCabe  at the Charleton tribunal in  Dublin Castle. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Maurice McCabe at the Charleton tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

“There was a lot of bad blood apparently in Bailieboro,” was one of the standout sentences from the testimony this week at the Charleton tribunal.

It came in evidence from the veteran crime journalist Paul Williams, when he was asked if he’d heard any rumours circulating during 2014 about whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The tribunal is investigating whether senior Garda management, up to commissioner level, were involved in smearing McCabe. who had been investigated for child sex abuse in 2006/2007.

In January 2006 Sgt McCabe was attending the scene of a young man’s suicide when another sergeant from Bailieboro, who is being called Mr D, turned up with two colleagues “highly emotional and intoxicated”.

The men had come directly from a pub, where they had heard of the death of the young man, who was known to them. Sgt McCabe later reported the incident, and D was reassigned to new duties.

D and McCabe knew each other, their families mixed, and their children played together. It was when they were all in the McCabe house in 1998 that D’s then six-year-old daughter (Ms D) said an event occurred which in December 2006 she claimed constituted sexual assault.

‘Horseplay’

When he saw the Garda file on the matter, the Cavan State solicitor Rory Hayden described the disputed incident as constituting “horseplay and no more”. No charges were brought.

Supt Noel Cunningham, then an inspector, investigated the 2006 allegation, even though he protested against being assigned the duty given that he knew both sergeants. Cunningham’s report to the DPP recommended no prosecution and included mention of the suicide incident.

When the letter came from the DPP containing the decision that no charges should be brought, it went first to Hayden, and then to Cunningham. Cunningham said he was away from his office at the time and it was almost three weeks before he opened it. He said that when he went to contact McCabe he found it difficult to arrange a meeting. McCabe was not accommodating, he said. Eventually a meeting occurred.

What Cunningham did not know was that Hayden had already told McCabe about the DPP’s response, including an observation that even if there were no doubts as to Ms D’s credibility, the incident she had described “does not constitute a sexual assault, or indeed an assault”.

McCabe had been wondering why Cunningham had not told him. He turned up to the meeting with Cunningham accompanied by a representative from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.

No prosecution

Cunningham told McCabe that the DPP had decided there should be no prosecution, but not the other details, since that was the rule then. Gardaí did not give the details of the DPP’s decisions, he said.

“Can you imagine,” asked McCabe’s counsel, Michael McDowell SC, “that somebody who believed he had been cleared emphatically and that the DPP had ruled that there had been no offence of any kind, even if what was described had occurred, that that person might not think that a direction that there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution, dealt fairly with the situation?”

Cunningham said he was following the rules.

Later, he was subjected to a number of complaints, complaints into which McCabe had an input. When asked, he said it was fair to say that McCabe “had been a thorn in your side” and had made him “feel uncomfortable over the years with the allegations that he had levelled” against him.

McCabe’s complaints, and Garda HQ’s response, led in time to the Guerin report, the O’Higgins commission, the tribunal, and the resignations of commissioner Martin Callinan and the minister for justice, Alan Shatter.

Conversation taped

At one stage, in the context of the O’Higgins commission and complaints by McCabe against Mr D, Cunningham met McCabe in Mullingar and, unbeknownst to Cunningham, the conversation was taped.

Cunningham said he was shocked to discover later that McCabe had taped him. Judge Charleton, who acted as counsel for the Morris Tribunal into Garda conduct in Donegal, observed that “there seems to be a lot of gardaí recording each other’s conversations surreptitiously. It certainly surfaced in Donegal as well.”

He later accepted that he should not ascribe such practices generally to the Garda. Cunningham said he never taped anyone in his life.

In October 2007 there were two public incidents involving McCabe and members of the D family, including one where, according to the chairman, McCabe “retreated to the station and ran up the stairs”.

McCabe complained, but did not want to see prosecutions. What he did want was that the substance of the DPP’s conclusion be given to him and the D family, in the hope that this would ease the difficulties he was experiencing in the Bailieboro station. This did not happen. McCabe later moved to Mullingar.

Adds context

All of this adds context to the tribunal’s job of deciding whether senior Garda management were smearing McCabe a decade after the sex abuse allegation had been dismissed.

Some people apparently believed that McCabe’s whistleblowing activities were motivated by the 2006 allegation and the non-release of the DPP’s reasons for deciding against charges.

As Williams put it: “It was a vague rumour that there was a grievance, that this was not just out of the blue, that there was a history to it.”

There was bad blood in Bailieboro.

The question is whether this talk of bad blood tipped over to people being told there had been a child sex abuse allegation, and whether this was part of an exercise directed from Garda HQ to discredit a man who had complained about the quality of Garda operations, by saying he was motivated by “malice and revenge”.