O’Higgins report: Garda criticised over investigation of alleged sexual assault

Minibus driver was entitled to have matter dealt with competently, commission says

The commission of investigation into claims of Garda corruption is critical of the Garda investigation into a public order incident and possible sexual assault on a woman in a minibus in Kingscourt, Co Cavan, in 2007.

It concludes the minibus driver, Lorraine Browne, underwent "a harrowing experience'' and was entitled to have the matter dealt with competently and professionally by the Garda.

“Unfortunately, as is evident from the findings of the commission, her legitimate expectations in this regard were not met,’’ it adds.

Ms Browne contacted Bailieboro Garda Station at 4.30am on February 25th to complain about the behaviour of three male passengers. Garda Fearghal McCarthy, a probationer garda and observer in the official patrol car, and Garda Sinead Delaney, arrived on the scene at 4.50 am.


Ms Browne made a statement on February 26th, but withdrew it on May 30th and there was no prosecution.

The commission, headed by Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins, states that Ms Browne had been led to believe that it might not be worth her while pursuing the matter. However, it says Sgt Maurice McCabe was “inaccurate’’ in asserting she was told “she had no case’’.

Indeed, says the report, the very fact she was told the alleged culprits might get off lightly indicated it might be worth her while to pursue it.

Ms Browne had said she was hiding in a garden behind a hedge, with two male passengers who had come to her aid, when the gardaí arrived.

“Garda McCarthy denies that the two men were present, but the commission accepts the evidence of Ms Browne.”

It adds she had no reason to invent their presence.

“Ms Browne impressed the commission, not only as a capable and courageous woman, but as a fair-minded and truthful witness,” the report says.

Ms Browne said Garda McCarthy had contacted her by telephone and told her one of the suspects had offered an apology and a meal voucher.

Ms Browne, who had estimated her loss of earnings to be €150, claimed she had been told by Garda McCarthy that if she accepted the meal voucher or compensation she would have to withdraw her statement of complaint.

“Ms Browne decided to accept the compensation, and notified Garda McCarthy of that fact,’’ the commission adds.

In a different account, Garda McCarthy said he had contacted a suspect, “Mr A’’, to explore the possibility of obtaining a cautioned statement. “Mr A” informed him he wanted to apologise to Ms Browne, “sort her out for her loss of earnings and wanted to give her a meal voucher”.

Garda McCarthy had not taken a statement from him.

“It did not occur to Garda McCarthy that the apology and offer of compensation might be evidence of guilt of some wrongdoing,” the commission says.

“Neither did it occur to him, at any time, to contact the two other men who had been with ‘Mr A’ and may have been guilty of criminal offences, or at least be a potential witness.”

The commission says because the incident had taken place in 2007, the lapse of time meant the recollections of witnesses might be impaired.

“However, the commission accepts the evidence of Ms Browne that the question of compensation did not emanate from her,” it adds.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times