INM’s Paul Williams and Dearbhail McDonald at the Dublin Castle this week
Independent News and Media Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald gave evidence on Tuesday at the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle.
Ms McDonald was asked about her involvement in the editorial process ahead of the publication of Irish Independent journalist Paul Williams’s first article about Ms D and Sgt Maurice McCabe which was published on April 12, 2014.
Ms McDonald, who would have been Legal Editor at INM at the time, was tasked with “stress-testing” and “fact-checking” Mr Williams’ first article about Sgt McCabe and Ms D.
Ultimately, she told the tribunal, she advised against Mr Williams’ first draft being published.
She also told Micheál Ó Higgins SC, for An Garda Síochána, that her advice led to Sgt McCabe’s reputation being “protected”, saying:
“I believe that the advices that I gave and the role that I played actually went to ensure that Mr McCabe’s reputation was protected. I gave advices, I’m not going to go into the specific advices that I gave. But the ultimate decision of an editor is final. And perhaps I wouldn’t — well, I know I advised against publication.”
Ms McDonald told Judge Peter Charleton:
“For reasons of confidentiality and privilege, I don’t want to go into the specific advices that I gave, but certainly there were material changes between the draft I saw and the article that was ultimately published.”
The tribunal has since asked Mr Williams if he can furnish the tribunal with the first draft of his first story on Ms D.
Both Ms McDonald and Mr Williams have both told the tribunal that they never spoke to each other about her “stress-testing” of his article – with Mr Williams saying he only learned last month of what she did through statements given to the tribunal.
The tribunal is examining a claim by the former head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor that he was instructed by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan – with the knowledge of Mr Callinan’s successor Nóirín O’Sullivan – to negatively brief journalists about Sgt McCabe by telling them about the Ms D allegation made against Sgt McCabe in 2006.
In December 2006, the daughter of a Garda colleague of Sgt McCabe’s, referred to as Ms D, made an allegation of ‘dry humping’ against Sgt McCabe to gardai.
The matter was investigated by then Inspector Noel Cunningham, his investigation went to the DPP and, in April 2007, the DPP unequivocally ruled there was no basis for a prosecution.
Supt Taylor alleges that he was instructed to tell journalists about Ms D’s 2006 allegation and to tell them that, while the DPP ruled against a prosecution, the investigation was still the “root cause” of Sgt McCabe’s complaints about malpractice within An Garda Siochana.
The tribunal has already heard that three journalists called to the D family home in early 2014 – Debbie McCann, of the Irish Mail on Sunday; Eavan Murray, of The Irish Sun; and Mr Williams.
However, only Mr Williams – who interviewed Ms D and part-videoed an interview with Ms D on March 8, 2014 – wrote about Ms D in 2014.
He wrote four articles about Ms D which were published April and May 2014.
Mr Williams has told the tribunal he was not negatively briefed by either Supt Taylor, Ms O’Sullivan or Mr Callinan.
Ms O’Sullivan and Mr Callinan both deny Supt Taylor’s claims.
Ms McDonald explained to the tribunal that in March 2014 – at a time when she was covering the Anglo trial of Pat Whelan, Willie McAteer and Sean FitzPatrick in the Criminal Courts of Justice – she was asked by then INM Group Editor Stephen Rae to “stress-test” Mr Williams’ first article about Ms D.
Ms McDonald said she was asked to:
“…essentially stress-test a story that had been written by a colleague that they were considering for a publication, and I was tasked with that by my editor and asked to go off and make my own inquiries and to come back and see was it fit for publication, in my view, in terms of both being legally and factually robust…”
She further explained that she did know the article was about Sgt McCabe, saying:
“Yeah, at that stage it was fairly evident that it was, and I undertook my own inquiries and
reported back to my editor, Stephen Rae, to our group head of news, Ian Mallon, and, as the Tribunal is aware from my statement, I did compose a memo over which I’ve raised confidentiality and privilege, outlining some of my observations, concerns and the risks as I perceived them, and that was the end of the matter for me.”
Ms McDonald told the tribunal that she was given both the article and the video interview to consider before she made her own “inquiries”.
She also said that in/or around March 14 she would have watched the video in the company of Mr Rae and Mr Mallon.
[Mr Mallon can’t recall any meeting about the article or seeing the video]
Ms McDonald said she wrote up a memo, with her notes, as part of her inquiries and:
“It was quite a discrete function, task that I had been assigned. I did that. I had no — I wasn’t apprised of anything that happened before that, or how it came about, and I had no interaction thereafter with it. I went back to the CCJ [Criminal Courts of Justice] after that.”
Ms McDonald was asked by the counsel for An Garda Síochána if she was aware of the criticism that has been levelled against Mr Williams for him not contacting Sgt McCabe ahead of the publication of his series of articles.
[Mr Williams has already told the tribunal that he didn’t feel he needed to contact Sgt McCabe because Sgt McCabe wasn’t identified in the articles – though Sgt McCabe, and many witnesses have already told the tribunal they believed the articles were about him when they read them]
In response to this, Ms McDonald said:
“I have no knowledge of that because I was brought in specifically to assess or give my views or opinions, I have no absolutely no carriage or knowledge of what the company otherwise did in terms of liaising with Mr. McCabe or any of the relevant parties.”
Yesterday, Mr Ó Higgins SC, for An Garda Síochána, asked Mr Williams if he was aware that Ms McDonald, as part of her fact-checking exercise, contacted Michael McDowell SC, for Sgt McCabe, in March 2014.
Mr Williams said he wasn’t aware of this until April of this year – via the tirbunal.
Judge Charleton said there was nothing wrong with this contact between Ms McDonald and Mr McDowell, saying it was “a perfectly legitimate exercise as opposed to taking sides” while Mr Ó Higgins SC, for the gardaí, saying he wasn’t suggesting otherwise.
The tribunal has heard intermittently about a ‘poison pen’ letter, dated February 26, 2014, about Sgt McCabe which was sent to RTÉ and INM.
On Tuesday, Ms McDonald was asked about this letter and her knowledge, if any, of it.
She told Kathleen Leader SC, for the tribunal:
“It was the Tribunal through — or my lawyer, our lawyers, through the Tribunal, that brought attention to it, and I have no knowledge of it, no receipt of it, haven’t had it in my possession, did not see it until it was provided by the Tribunal.
And just even in terms of my own general practice, I do maintain a readers’ correspondence file where it’s suitable to hold on to material, and, if I had received that, I would have brought it to the attention of the relevant news editor or person that was working on it.
But I certainly, if it had been in possession, would not have given it away. I have a practice of retaining important correspondence when I receive it, including unsolicited and anonymous correspondence.”
Later, it was put to Ms McDonald by Mr Ó Higgins SC, for the gardaí, that, according to a statement of Sgt McCabe, Ms McDonald had “a role in relation to the issuance or the production of that letter and it coming to the attention of Sergeant McCabe’s side of the house?”
Ms McDonald said this was incorrect.
“And I just have to take issue and disagree with that because I am quite emphatic about my knowledge. The first time I saw or received the letter, had knowledge of the so-called foxtrot bravo letter, when it was brought to my attention courtesy of the Tribunal.”
“He [Sgt McCabe] says, “it was my understanding”, namely Mr McCabe’s understanding at the time, that the document had been given to a person. That was — that is not the case.”
Diarmaid McGuinness SC, for the tribunal, yesterday asked Mr Williams about this letter.
They had the following exchange:
McGuinness: “…just one final matter. The investigators asked you about this and you were shown a document… This is a letter dated — purported to be dated the 26th February of 2014, and Sergeant McCabe, when being interviewed by Mr [Sean] Guerin, read a fragment of it to Mr Guerin in connection with an allegation of sexual assault of a minor.”
Williams: “I’m aware of this, yeah.”
McGuinness: “So that was on the 1st April. And he told Mr. Guerin that his counsel had got it from the Irish Independent…”
Williams: “I read the statement…”
McGuinness: “…a couple of weeks earlier than that?”
Williams: “He told Mr Guerin that he got it — that his counsel, Mr McDowell, got it from Dearbhail McDonald in the Irish Independent. I read that. In 2014, this was?”
Williams: “I saw that, yeah.”
McGuinness: “And Sergeant McCabe then made a statement explaining his understanding of it…We’ve also been informed that Prime Time received this at the end of February. And we belatedly received a copy of that, a version of that letter from them since.”
Williams: “Prime Time received it when?”
McGuinness: “In February 2014.”
Williams: “Is this the same document?”
Williams: “Oh, right, okay.”
McGuinness: “But just in the context of this issue as to whether it came to the Independent, did you ever see this letter before?”
Williams: “The first time I ever heard about this document was in April when the Tribunal contacted my solicitor, and I saw it then the next day. I had no knowledge of it, never saw it before in my life.”
McGuinness: “And you heard no talk of it, about having been received or…”
Williams: “Never heard of it.”
McGuinness: “…going the rounds…”
McGuinness: “… or going to any other news organisations…”
McGuinness: “… or chitchat. Ms [Katie] Hannon referred to it in a broadcast in July 2016 on a Prime Time programme.”
McGuinness: “Did you pick up the reference from that at any stage?”
McGuinness: “In any event, this played no part in your knowledge or
information or decision-making?”
Williams: “No, and I also am very cognisant that my colleague Dearbhail McDonald made a very unambiguous statement stating that she never saw this document and never gave it to Mr McDowell.”
McGuinness: “No, I understand that, but I am just…”
Williams: “So I don’t know the provenance of it, I don’t know where it came from.”
McGuinness: “I’m just anxious to get your evidence on the matter to advance matters. Thank you very much, Mr Williams.”
Sgt McCabe’s legal team didn’t ask any questions of either Ms McDonald or Mr Williams – who gave evidence about his articles last summer.
The tribunal resumes.