Charleton tribunal: Social worker denies she was ‘puppet of the gardaí’
Tribunal barrister said false allegation was repeated in six documents in file in 2014
Kay McLoughlin with Gerard Lowry at the The Disclosures (Charleton) Tribunal in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Collins
A social worker who wrote a letter to garda whistle blower Sgt Maurice McCabe in December 2015 containing false allegations of sexual abuse has denied she was “a puppet of the gardaí”.
The Charleton tribunal is examining claims that allegations of sexual abuse were used as part of a campaign to smear and undermine the reputation of Sgt McCabe.
Kay McLoughlin, a social work team leader, sent the letter to the sergeant seeking to meet with him to discuss the allegations. The letter incorrectly contained false allegations that Sgt McCabe “digitally penetrated” Ms D and threatened her father.
Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton asked Ms McLoughlin if she “was in some way a puppet of the gardaí”.
Ms McLoughlin said: “No, I have a duty to my clients. If I felt I was in some way biased or even acquainted with someone I wouldn’t deal with the case.”
Ms McLoughlin agreed with Conor Dignam SC, on behalf of the garda commissioner, that high staff turnover could have led to problems dealing with the Tusla file on Sgt McCabe.
Four people held the post of social work team leader between July 2013 and July 2014 when Ms McLoughlin took over in the post.
Ms McLoughlin said that before she took over as team leader in July 2014 she was aware of Sgt McCabe from media reports.
A Tusla file on Sgt McCabe was opened when Ms D sought counselling in 2013 about a previously reported allegation which was investigated by gardaí in 2006. The DPP decided against pressing charges in the case due to lack of evidence in 2007.
An administrative error led to false allegations from an unrelated case being added to Sgt McCabe’s file.
In January 2016 solicitors for Sgt McCabe wrote to Tusla after the sergeant received the letter written by Ms McLoughlin containing the false allegations.
On day nine of the inquiry, counsel for the tribunal, Diarmaid McGuinness SC asked Ms McLoughlin if the errors in the file on Sgt McCabe were created and perpetuated in-house. She said they were and added that they had “absolutely nothing to do with gardaí”.
Ms McLoughlin reviewed the files in late 2015, but said she did not see an email in the file which outlined how the allegation of “digital penetration” from an unrelated case had been added to the file.
Mr McGuinness said the false allegation was repeated in six documents in the file in 2014, and that of the remaining 19 documents, a number were devoted to correcting the error, including an email from social worker team leader Eileen Argue outlining how the error occurred.
Ms McLoughlin said she accepted she had missed a crucial piece of information. “I did not review the file fully. I had no cause to know an error had been made in it. I failed to appreciate that there was a significant error on the file and I failed to review the file thoroughly.”
Ms McLoughlin said she was aware of Sgt McCabe from media reports. She said she assumed Ms D might have sought counselling in 2013 because “Mr McCabe’s name being in the media may have triggered something for her.”
She said media coverage did not influence her actions.
“I would treat all cases similarly or equally. It wouldn’t be a reason to treat the case differently,” she said.
Asked if she or anyone in her department were “out to get” Sgt McCabe, she replied “absolutely not.”
“I have no cause to have a grievance with anybody that I would take such action,” she said.
Ms McLoughlin said she sought a meeting with Ms D, but this did not take place because Ms D was sitting exams.
She said she asked a Garda Byrne about the case informally at a meeting with gardaí over abuse cases, but it was not on the agenda for the meeting.
Mr McGuinness said that Garda Byrne remembered the conversation, and that the case predated his arrival in Bailieboro and he knew nothing of what had transpired. “This case wasn’t followed up in a consistent way by me or by anyone else,” Ms McLoughlin said.
She said that if she had followed through and arranged a meeting with Ms D, or read the file fully, a letter sent to Sgt McCabe at the end of 2015 would never have been issued. “I fully accept that letter was inappropriate to be sent out. I take responsibility for it,” she said.
She accepted a suggestion from Mr McGuinness that the letter “must have created seismic shocks in the McCabe household”.
Mr McGuinness asked the witness if the documents containing the false allegations “either ought to have been completely removed from the file or stamped as inaccurate and not to be relied upon”.
She replied that she understanding was they should be removed from the file.
“Had I been aware that there was an error on the file at that time I would have sought the aid of a data specialist,” she said.
After solicitors for Sgt McCabe responded to the letter sent to the sergeant, Ms McLoughlin said that she realised she had made a “grave error”.
The tribunal continues on Thursday.