Charleton Tribunal: week ending 11 May 2018

Article for Sunday Independent of 13 May 2018

Supt David Taylor’s reputation has taken something of a battering since the Charleton tribunal began its inquiry earlier this month into allegations he was ordered to brief journalists negatively about whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

Former garda commissioner Martin Callinan denies giving instructions to brief negatively to the ex-press officer, and Nóirín O’Sullivan, Callinan’s successor, says she was not aware of such an instruction.

While some civilians and gardaí who worked under Taylor when he worked in the press office described their working relationships with him as a “fine boss” and someone they got on “very well” with, others were more critical. All except one of the thirteen witnesses who worked in the press office during Taylor’s tenure said they never heard anything of Sgt McCabe except in media reports. None were aware of any smear campaign.

James Molloy, the sergeant who did recall talk about McCabe, said Taylor was not complimentary about the whistleblower, journalists who wrote about him, or “any member of the Oireachtas who took his side.”

Molloy couldn’t recall specifics, but explained the gist of Taylor’s attitude. “Put it this way. I was clear if there was a side to be taken which side David Taylor was on, and it wasn’t on McCabe’s side,” Sgt Molloy said.

Molloy said Taylor was uncomplimentary towards McCabe because the sergeant was speaking out about garda issues, not because of rumours about abuse. Molloy also said he was not aware of a smear campaign, and was never told to smear anybody.

Taylor had “a tendency to gossip and chitchat in the office after an incident,” Molloy said. He thought this was “dangerous”, as unconfirmed rumours could “bleed into the media”. Molloy also said Taylor did a lot of media briefings and “piece to camera” himself during his time as press officer. “There is always the danger in the press office of loving it, getting a buzz from it, I thought he had fallen into that trap,” Molloy said.

Taylor did not have a good relationship with his civilian superior Andrew McLindon, the director of communications, and “it wasn’t a very friendly relationship at all,” Sgt Damien Hogan said. “From day one it was very estranged. It just wasn’t working, there was no communication between them.”

Hogan said Taylor was a “stickler” for timekeeping, going so far as to install swipe cards in the press office, including on the toilets.

Hogan said that after Taylor was transferred out to the traffic division, he became concerned that sensitive information was being leaked after he saw several newspaper articles which closely matched incident reports which had not been made public. Hogan also said a journalist who called him for information about a Child Rescue alert told him “I’m getting enough at the moment from Supt Taylor.”

A probe by Chief Supt Francis Clerkin into press leaks after two Roma children were removed from their family in Tallaght by gardai in October 2013 led to Supt Taylor. Phone records showed that Taylor had over 11,000 contacts with journalists in the four month period between September 2014 to December 2014, although he no longer worked in the press office. Just under one quarter of the contacts were with Eavan Murray, a crime correspondent with the Irish Sun.

Clerkin found “Critical Incident Reports” detailing serious incidents were forwarded by Supt Taylor to a personal email account. The team suspected the reports went from there to journalists, but could not verify this as information in the personal email account was “continuously deleted”. Taylor was arrested and questioned in April 2015. The DPP later directed no prosecution for unlawful disclosure of information.

Clerkin rejected suggestions that Taylor was “targeted” to be “discredited”. “All I ever did was follow the evidence that was presented to me, and it led me to Supt Taylor,” he told the tribunal.

In October 2016, Taylor made a protected disclosure. The tribunal sought phone and computer records which might show communications to and from Taylor to support the allegations he made.

Old and obsolete Garda phones were not stored after use in 2012-14, the tribunal heard. If a phone contained personal information, such as family photographs, an officer might hold on to it for that reason. SIM cards were transferred with upgrades, or destroyed. Some were repaired and recycled. Of the phones and computers used by Callinan, O’Sullivan and Taylor, some were no longer available, some had been reformatted after repairs and given to other officers. One phone was wiped and ended up used by Ms O’Sullivan’s son, and when he retired Callinan bought his laptop. It was wiped to remove sensitive data before being given to him. Garda and Forensic Service of Northern Ireland data specialist scoured all available phones, SIM cards, and disk drives , but found nothing supporting Taylor’s allegations. In any case, Taylor previously told the tribunal the instructions he received from Callinan were verbal. Callinan denies giving any instructions at all.

Two officers from the Security & Intelligence Section also gave evidence on their computer files, which were not made available to the FSNI because they contained sensitive security information. The computers were searched last Summer in the presence of tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton, using keywords provided by the tribunal, including Maurice McCabe, Whistleblower, Rat, Child Abuse, and Kiddy Fiddler. No files on McCabe or Taylor were found, except for incidental mentions, such as when McCabe took part in an anti-smuggling border operation.

Former detective chief superintendent Peter Kirwan also searched for any application for a telephone interception on McCabe between 2009 and 2016. Nothing was found. There were applications for Taylor’s phone records, which related to the Roma leaks investigation.

No records in the Security Section presenting McCabe or Taylor as “a target of An Garda Síochána, a suspect or in a derogatory light,” Mr Kirwan reported.

Taylor begins his evidence tomorrow [Monday], and is expected to take at least three days. Also scheduled are Taylor’s wife Michelle, former justice minister Alan Shatter, and Martin Callinan.