Charleton tribunal: Clifford told mobiles key to smear campaign
Journalist says inquiry unlikely to have began if Supt Taylor did not encounter difficulties
Mick Clifford, special correspondent with the Irish Examiner, at the Charleton tribunal in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
The former head of the Garda Press Office had an “animus” towards the force’s former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and was aggrieved not to be promoted when he was moved to new duties, the Charleton tribunal has heard.
Supt Dave Taylor, who was moved to the traffic division and was later suspended on reduced pay while the subject of a criminal inquiry, made allegations against Ms O’Sullivan in a protected disclosure in September 2016 that are the main focus of the tribunal.
Irish Examiner journalist Mick Clifford, who met Supt Taylor in the weeks before he made the protected disclosure, told the tribunal that Supt Taylor claimed that Ms O’Sullivan was the reason for him being arrested and placed on suspension.
Mr Clifford said that during a meeting in Supt Taylor’s house in August/September 2016, he was told by the superintendent the real reason for the criminal investigation he was the subject of, was to seize mobile phones. He claimed these contained text messages that would show Ms O’Sullivan had been aware of a smear campaign against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.
In his protected disclosure, Supt Taylor claimed that he was ordered by the then commissioner Martin Callinan in 2013 to conduct a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, and that this was known to the then deputy commissioner, Ms O’Sullivan. Both former commissioners have denied the claim.
Mr Clifford told Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, that when he met Supt Taylor the suspended officer was in “reduced circumstances” financially and emotionally or certainly portrayed himself as such.
He said that the “central character” in how this had come about, as explained to him by Supt Taylor, was Ms O’Sullivan.
Supt Taylor was investigated for the alleged improper leaking of material to the media in the wake of his bring transferred from the press office. No charges were brought and he later returned to duty.
Mr Clifford said he could not be certain that he was told during his first meeting with Supt Taylor that the alleged smear campaign involved text messages to journalists, but he was told during a second meeting, when he checked some facts before writing a report about Supt Taylor’s protected disclosure, that the alleged campaign involved texts.
The journalist said the superintendent’s “whole thesis” was that the phones had to be seized as they contained evidence that would show Ms O’Sullivan’s knowledge of the alleged campaign.
The tribunal has heard that the superintendent’s phones were seized during the investigation but that the phones were issued to him after the period during which the alleged smear campaign occurred.
Mr Clifford said he was certain that text messages were central to the scenario outlined to him by Supt Taylor. “His whole thesis was that Nóirín O’Sullivan wanted to get her hands on the phones, that they were the smoking gun.”
He said “smoking gun” was his – Mr Clifford’s – phrase.
The tribunal heard that Mr Clifford sent Supt Taylor a draft chapter from his book, A Force For Justice, the Maurice McCabe Story, in which it was stated that hundreds and possibly thousands of texts formed part of the smear campaign and that Supt Taylor had not pointed out that the claim was incorrect.
Responding to Michael O’Higgins SC, for Supt Taylor, Mr Clifford said he did not recall Supt Taylor saying during their first meeting that he, Supt Taylor, only briefed journalists verbally as part of the alleged campaign.
Mr Clifford said he could not say definitely that he was told by Supt Taylor that texts were sent to journalists, but that a “lot of emphasis” was put on texts by Supt Taylor during their meeting. He said he could say with certainty that the issue of texts was linked by Supt Taylor to the seizing of his phones.
Mr Clifford said he had never received a negative briefing from any Garda source about Sgt McCabe.
Responding to the chairman, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, Mr Clifford said that in his view if Supt Taylor’s had not “encountered his problems, I don’t think any of us would be here”.
John Burke, a RTÉ journalist with the This Week radio programme, said he was “absolutely certain” that he had never received a negative briefing about Sgt McCabe from Supt Taylor, as alleged by the superintendent to the tribunal.
Mr Burke said he was “mystified” as to why the claim had been made.