Charleton tribunal: week ending 4 May 2018

Article for Sunday Independent of 6 May 2018

John Ferris had a difficult time adjusting to life with David Taylor in the Garda press office. An inspector at the time, Ferris told the Disclosures tribunal how when Taylor first arrived to his posting at Garda headquarters, they shared an office.

Aware that his new boss would be used to his own office, as superintendents had in their districts, he asked Supt Taylor if there was any problem.

“He said it wasn’t an issue and we proceeded on and we had a good working relationship,” Ferris told the tribunal. “And then one morning I came in and found my desk upside down on the floor in three parts and I was told I was moving office. I felt it was disrespectful to me as an individual, I thought it was unprofessional, but as a superintendent, he was entitled to look for an office of his own.”

Taylor’s barrister, Tara Burns, suggested the desk removal happened in the context of office renovations. Ferris agree it happened around the same time, but what he found unprofessional was the lack of notice. “Moving an office wasn’t an issue to me, but I just thought common decency would have demanded that he would have said it to me. That was the point,” he recalled.

The tribunal is looking at allegations from Supt Taylor that he was directed by former garda commissioner Martin Callinan to brief the media negatively on whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe. Mr Callinan denies the claim.

Ferris was one of three superintendents to give evidence to the tribunal this week. None of the witnesses heard anything about any smear campaign, they said, and their knowledge of Sgt McCabe was limited to what they saw and heard in media reports, they told the tribunal.

After Taylor was transferred out of the press office to the traffic section in June 2014, Ferris discovered the former press officer was still on a garda mailing list summarising daily media coverage. When Ferris told Taylor that he would no longer receive the summary, Taylor asked him who made the decision. Not wanting a debate, Ferris told Taylor “the decision was made on high”. Taylor didn’t press the question any further.

Taylor was “upset” about being moved out of the press office, retired superintendent Paul Moran said. “He was bitter about being moved. That is what I sensed from him, he wasn’t happy with the new move that he had got.” Moran said he deduced Taylor was unhappy from his body language and from the conversation they had shortly after he was assigned to his new posting.

Moran had earlier met Taylor on taking over the post of garda press officer, and received “a comprehensive briefing” from him. “I do remember him saying that it wasn’t so much that he had a difficulty with the move, it’s probably the way the move was done, whatever that was supposed to mean,” Moran said.

Garda IT specialists Supt Michael Flynn and Insp Liam Moroney both gave evidence on the recovery of mobile phones and phone records of calls and texts between Taylor, Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan between 2012 and 2014. Twelve of fifteen phones used by the three officers during that time could not be recovered, although the others (one of six from O’Sullivan, two of six from Callinan) had been handed in. None of the three phones Taylor used during the time could be located.

Old and obsolete phones were not stored after use at the time, once contact information was transferred to new phones, Supt Flynn told the tribunal. For a while, old phones were donated to charity, but that programme seemed to have ended sometime in 2012. If a phone contained personal information, such as family photographs, an officer might hold on to it for that reason. SIM cards were transferred to the newer upgrades, or destroyed. Some might be repaired and recycled.

The Garda IT department was able to obtain metadata giving details of calls made and texts sent from Three Ireland. However, while the mobile provider held metadata for seven years, the contents of text messages were not stored once the message was sent. Landline records for the former commissioners were also made available to the tribunal.

In any event, the contents of the phones may be academic. Earlier this year, the tribunal heard that Taylor alleged the instructions he received from Commissioner Callinan “were verbal in nature”. On Friday, barrister John Ferry told the tribunal that Taylor’s position was that texts and emails he sent were routine updates and “there was never any reference to any allegations of sexual abuse or any campaign.”

Ferry also clarified that Taylor did not believe his phones were tampered with, though on one occasion “a Whatsapp went live on his phone at a particular time and that alarmed him and he was unaware as to how that occurred.”

“Unfortunately those things happen all the time,” Mr Justice Peter Charleton said. “I got two of those only two days ago, and somebody from Australia keeps ringing me, I don’t know why.”

The tribunal resumes on Tuesday.