‘When can I get on with my life?’– woman at centre of McCabe case
24-year-old who made sexual assault claim wants to appear before Charlton Tribunal
Eleven years after she made an allegation of sexual assault against Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, the woman whose complaint is at the centre of an alleged smear campaign wonders when she can begin the rest of her life.
In 2006, she made an allegation of sexual assault against the Cavan-based garda, which was investigated by the Garda. A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decided that no further action was necessary.
Struggling with anxiety, depression and other issues in 2013, she was encouraged by her mother to speak to a Health Service Executive (HSE) counsellor, where she spoke about the original allegation but only, she says, when she was asked to do so.
“When she was taking it down, she said something – I don’t know her exact words; she said she’ll have to refer this on,” the woman said. “I remember straight away it got my back up. I was thinking: ‘Refer what on? This has been reported, this has been investigated and the DPP said insufficient evidence. That’s that, there’s nothing going to change, I have accepted that.’
“I remember coming out of the counselling session and I was more annoyed than when I went in; I remember thinking: ‘Stirring up shit for what?’ I knew by her she was going to report it whether I wanted to or not,” the woman said.
Now the 24-year-old college graduate says she wants her day before the Charleton Tribunal of Inquiry: “I would welcome it.” She also wants an apology from the child and family agency Tusla and the HSE over the handling of a counselling session she attended.
“I’m sick of saying nothing, of biting my lip and it getting me absolutely nowhere. We didn’t ask for this; for any of this to be brought up and put into the public [domain],” she told The Irish Times last week.
“We had no choice in this. I don’t want any attention. I want to get my career going, do a bit of travelling around the world and now this is thrown up,” she said, adding that her attitude had hardened watching the media coverage over the past 10 days.
The report was made by the counsellor, but the Health Service Executive says that a cut-and-paste error was subsequently made to it that incorrectly claimed that the woman had alleged that she had suffered digital penetration by Sgt McCabe when she was six years old.
Last week, Maurice McCabe and his wife, Lorraine, in a rare public statement, rejected both the original allegation made against him in 2006 and the subsequent corrupted version that was later included in the HSE/Tusla file.
During the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation, established to inquire into McCabe’s allegations about garda malpractice and incompetence, the couple said: “throughout the proceedings before that Commission, Maurice, at the hands of the legal team representing the current [Garda] Commissioner, was cast in the role of culprit and/or defendant, and as a person making those complaints in bad faith and without cause.
“Because the 2004 Act prohibits under pain of criminal law the publication of the actual evidence tendered to such Commissions, the public has little or no appreciation of what was done, and attempted to be done, to Maurice in the course of its hearings.
“For example, against the background of the current Tusla controversy, the entirely false allegation made of sexual abuse in 2006 against Maurice was repeatedly the subject of attempts at introduction in the proceedings for the purpose of discrediting his motives and testimony,” the couple said.
Speaking to The Irish Times, the woman was adamant that neither she nor anyone in her family had sought to make her complaint public, had never made the most damaging allegation levelled against McCabe, or had wanted any of it to be used to smear him.
“At this point now I want answers and I want an apology,” she said of the Tusla-HSE apparent debacle, “But I want people to start accepting responsibility and to be held accountable. I just can’t fathom how this copy-and-paste error happened.
“How could you make that kind of an error? Why would you be copying and pasting anything into a report that you’re meant to be typing up? Where are your notes that you would have been typing from? I just can’t fathom how such a cock-up was made,” she said.
However, the clerical error made in 2013, compounded later by Tusla in 2014 when it followed up on the penetration allegation which should have already been removed from the file, should not now be used against her and her family, including her Garda sergeant father.
Sgt McCabe, she said, was not a well-known Garda whistleblower when the original complaint was made. Despite media reports to the contrary the woman’s father was not involved in any dispute with Sgt McCabe, a Garda colleague, at the time, she said.
Last week, the HSE said an allegation of retrospective abuse was made against McCabe in July 2013, but that “an administrative error” was made a month later by a staff member of the HSE’s National Counselling Service. A corrected report was brought to the attention of Tusla and the Garda in May 2014.
Following her 2013 Cavan counselling session, the woman went back to college. There, she went for “two or three” counselling sessions. Later, Tusla contacted her, offering more appointments. It wanted, it said, to review her file because the agency was under new management.
However, Tusla would not disclose specifically what they wanted to discuss, she said. She says she felt “bullied” into agreeing to an appointment date. However, she did not turn up for it because she was living in another part of the country at the time.
She saw little point, she said, in travelling back to Cavan for a review of allegations that she had already made to the Garda years earlier, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided at the time did not warrant prosecution.
However, she insists that she would have gone to see Tusla officials if they had made it clear that they were investigating the more serious, but erroneous allegation of digital penetration that had by then made its way onto her file.
Nearly a year after she had attended the Cavan counselling session, she and her family became aware the Garda had received correspondence from the HSE which contained the line saying that she had lodged a claim of digital penetration against Sgt McCabe.
Her family immediately pointed out to the Garda that no such allegation had even been made. And the family believes it was their pointing out this mistake that resulted in the HSE and Tusla realising their mistake. However, Sgt McCabe says he similarly pointed out the errors.
“I just can’t fathom how such a cock-up was made, and then for Tusla trying to put the blame back on me saying ‘Well, you didn’t want to follow up matters’. They didn’t tell me what it was about.
“If they had told me they messed up, that there was a mishap with my name on it; do you not think I would have came up to sort it out? They never told me. As far as I was concerned Tusla wanted to review an old case and I thought, ‘For what, to turn my life upside down again?’
“They aren’t accepting responsibility yet; they can apologise to Maurice McCabe, but they can’t apologise to me? I want answers. I’m not going to (accept) ‘Sure look, it was human error.’ No. Someone needs to stand up and start taking responsibility. I’m furious.”
Death by suicide
The woman believes some sections of the media have heavily implied that she made a complaint against Sgt McCabe in December 2006 because her father was in dispute with Sgt McCabe over a disciplinary charge – an allegation she rejects.
According to her account, some 11 months before the allegations were made against Sgt McCabe, her father and a number of other Garda members were off duty and at a funeral gathering in a pub in Co Cavan. There, they learned that a young local man had died by suicide and that his remains had just been found.
The house where the suicide occurred was less than a mile from the pub where the off-duty gardaí had gathered. They went across the road to the local Garda station and took keys for an unmarked Garda car and drove to the house where the local man had just taken his life.
When they arrived Sgt McCabe was present with two young gardaí, all three in an official capacity.
The young woman’s father and the other off-duty gardaí he was with comforted the family and spent some time with them, she said.
The following morning, the woman claims, it became clear that a local Garda member – not McCabe – had made a complaint about his colleagues taking the unmarked Garda car while off duty and having been earlier in the pub.
Her family says that Garda member went to Sgt McCabe who then told the men who had taken the car that he had no choice but to take up the complaint. McCabe passed it to his superiors.
The woman’s father was transferred between two units. However, within months he was back where he had been, but in a more senior post, she said. She rejected charges that she had made her complaint against McCabe as an act of retaliation.
She said: “To try and say ‘well, it was your father who put you up to it . .’ It’s horrific to hear that. Why would he have put me through (that)?” Her father “was not a vindictive man”. He had resumed his duties, and got on with his life. He did not lodge her complaint, either, she said.
In December 2006, she said, she had come home one day from school at lunchtime with a friend, following a period “of deep distress”. There, she made allegations to her parents about events she claimed had happened seven years before.
Her father did contact his superiors in the Garda by phone to inform them what his daughter was alleging, she said. However, it was she who made the official complaint. Two gardaí came to her house the following day. Her parents were not present when the statement was made.
Instead, they absented themselves. A family friend sat with her as she made her allegations. A statement was prepared. Seven months later the Garda informed her that a file had been sent to the DPP, who subsequently decided against prosecution.
Her family had never got sight of the correspondence from the DPP and so could not comment on the veracity of reports suggesting the complaint outlined may not constitute a criminal offence even if it had taken place, she said.
Three months or so afterwards she was told that the DPP would not prosecute. Then 15 years old, she said she asked her mother to drive her to the town where Sgt McCabe was stationed because she “wanted to see him”. When they arrived they sat in their car.
On seeing Sgt McCabe, she says she jumped out of the vehicle and confronted him. She says a Garda member came out of the station to deal with her. “(He) said ‘Look it, calm yourself down. This isn’t doing you any good,’” she said.
“Not once have we been apologised to. Not once have we been contacted by phone, by letter, by anyone to say ‘We are so sorry to have involved you in all of this, to have to put you in the spotlight.’ I don’t want any of this. When am I going to be allowed to get on with my life?” she asked.