Journalists give evidence to Charleton Tribunal

Charleton Tribunal: Summary of evidence for week ending 1 June 2018

Article commissioned by Sunday Independent

In its final phase, the Charleton tribunal is hearing from journalists about what they knew of smear campaigns and negative briefings against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe.

The week began with former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, who said she never sought to influence RTÉ, and had transferred Supt David Taylor out of the press officer because she did not feel she could trust him.

Taylor has alleged he was directed by Martin Callinan to brief negatively about McCabe, and O’Sullivan as his deputy knew of the direction. Both former commissioners deny the allegation.

O’Sullivan was asked if it gave her any comfort to know Taylor was no longer alleging she had interfered with his mobile phones, inserted her husband into an investigation against him, or had a role in his 2015 arrest for leaking sensitive information.

“Absolutely none, when I bear in mind the impact it has had on my family and, most importantly, public confidence in An Garda Síochána,” she replied.

Former Sunday Independent editor Ann Harris said she had first heard a rumour about McCabe at an editorial conference, when a freelance journalist raised the issue of “something inappropriate to do with a child.”

Harris checked it out. She discovered the DPP directed no prosecution following a 2006 investigation, and the allegation was “groundless”. Thereafter, she “shut it down.”

Around September 2014, Harris had a conversation with Fionnán Sheahan, then group political editor. After a meeting where McCabe was discussed, Sheahan came to her and said “He’s a paedophile”.

“I think he thought perhaps I’m a bit naive, she doesn’t really know the score and he was tipping me off,” Harris said. Sheahan denies the conversation happened. Harris also said former group news editor Ian Mallon said there was “more to Sgt McCabe than meets the eye”. Mallon denies he was part of any whispering campaign or engaged in careless talk.

Harris said she believed journalists were being used “for nefarious purposes to spread rumour”. She said she was she was not bitter and did not bear a grudge to her former employers at INM, and had no beef with Sheahan or Mallon.

Gemma O’Doherty said she first heard rumours about McCabe when former Garda John Wilson called her and said “you won’t believe what they’re saying about him now.” O’Doherty said she “knew it to be utterly untrue”, but spoke to McCabe about it.

O’Doherty said she was made redundant after she called to Martin Callinan’s home to verify the commissioner lived there when she learned a Martin Callinan had penalty points wiped. O’Doherty said she later received an apology and “substantial compensation” for the loss of her job.

Daily Mail journalist Alison O’Reilly said was told by her colleague Debbie McCann that Nóirín O’Sullivan had confirmed the rumour. Both O’Sullivan and McCann deny this. O’Reilly said it was no secret she had issues with her employer and was pursuing High Court actions, but “just because I’m taking a legal case against my employers doesn’t mean my statement to the tribunal is not correct.”

Through a mutual friend, O’Reilly was introduced to Labour leader Brendan Howlin. He raised what she told him in a Dáil debate. Howlin was challenged on whether he had abused Dáil privilege, but said he had a duty to put what he was told on the record.

Sunday Times journalist Justine McCarthy said that she was never negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe by any garda. She said when another journalist told her about abuse allegations she was “was horrified.” She too investigated further and found the DPP had decided “no offence had been disclosed.”

DCU journalism professor Colum Kenny said he was told of rumours by two security correspondents at a Dail committee hearing in January 2014. He agreed to name the journalists to tribunal investigators, who could write to them. Kenny said journalists had no obligation to protect sources who lied, and should “tell the truth and shame the devil”.

On Friday afternoon, Philip Boucher-Hayes said Callinan told him before a December 2013 Crimecall programme that McCabe had psychological and psychiatric issues, bore a grudge, and had done “horrific things”. Ruling out murder and genocide, he felt this must have meant McCabe was accused of rape or child sexual abuse. Callinan denies smearing McCabe during the conversation, which he says concerned what questions he would answer during the programme.

The journalist said he later spoke to Crimecall co-host Grainne Seoige about what Callinan had said, and she was “shocked and appalled about it”. He also told an RTE editor and a producer. He spoke to McCabe in Summer 2014, and satisfied himself the allegation was untrue. He tried to follow up with Callinan , but the commissioner had retired, and couldn’t be reached. Challenged as to why he hadn’t run the story of a commissioner smearing a whistleblower, Boucher-Hayes said it was “an unsubstantiated and malicious allegation”, and would do enormous damage to McCabe and his family. RTE barrister Sean Gillane SC said a broadcast would have led to “the biggest defamation case in history.”

Boucher-Hayes said before going to the tribunal he “wrestled briefly” with whether there was an issue of privilege, but decided Callinan was not a source, but “a reluctant interviewee trying to weasel out of answering questions.”