From top: Sgt Maurice McCabe; Counsellor Laura Brophy, and social workers Rhona Murphy and Mary O’Reilly at Dublin Castle for the Disclosures Tribunal yesterday
At the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle.
The tribunal heard from three witnesses – HSE social workers Rhona Murphy and her superior Mary O’Reilly and psychologist and counsellor Laura Brophy who works with HSE’s counselling service, Rian.
The tribunal is investigating claims of an orchestrated smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe.
Readers will recall how an allegation of inappropriate touching was made against Sgt McCabe by a 14-year-old girl in 2006 but, after it was investigated by then Inspector Noel Cunningham, the DPP directed that no prosecution be taken – with the observation that it was doubtful the allegations should constitute a crime at all.
The person who made this allegation is referred to as Ms D in the tribunal.
Her father, also a guard, was a colleague of Sgt McCabe’s.
Sgt McCabe was not made aware of this allegation until nine years later, in December 2015.
The tribunal is not re-examining Ms D’s allegation but it is examining how her allegation – pertaining to 1998 when she was aged 6 or 7 – become conflated with another much more serious allegation of rape when counsellor Laura Brophy sent a referral to Tusla, following two counselling sessions with Ms D in 2013.
Yesterday, HSE social worker Rhona Murphy told the tribunal that she first became aware of Ms D in September 2005, on foot of a referral for Ms D to see a clinical psychologist.
Ms D’s parents had expressed concern about Ms D’s emotional state which was resulting in self-harming. They were also concerned about her engaging in sexual activity.
Following this, a file was opened in relation to Ms D.
Counsel for Sgt McCabe Michael McDowell SC, while cross-examining Ms Murphy, asked if she was aware that Ms D’s ‘sexual behaviour’ was in relation to another person other than Sgt McCabe and that the other person was subject of Garda investigation, arrested and that a file was prepared on this other person. Ms Murphy said she was not aware of this.
Ms Murphy explained that, further to the file on Ms D being opened in September 2005, Ms D’s mother – referred to as Mrs D – telephoned Ms Murphy in December 2006.
During this phonecall, Mrs D said Ms D had alleged that, in 1998, during a game of hide and seek in a man’s house, the man held Ms D over a sofa – while they were fully clothed – and touched her inappropriately. The word ‘humping’ was used to describe the motion.
Mrs D told Ms Murphy her daughter was six or seven at the time of the alleged incident.
The tribunal heard that this allegation was added to Ms D’s file.
On December 12, 2006, there was a meeting of the Child Protection Strategy Risk Management Committee in Monaghan.
Ms Murphy told the tribunal she couldn’t recall the specific meeting but she agreed that, according to the minutes of the meeting, she was in attendance.
Also according to the minutes, the committee discussed the allegation made on December 5, 2006, and it was decided that Ms Murphy would refer the matter to the HSE’s CSA (Child Sexual Abuse team) and that the matter would be reviewed at the following meeting.
On the same day of this meeting – on December 12, 2006 – Ms Murphy visited Ms D’s home where she was informed that a complaint had been made by Ms D; Sgt Maurice McCabe was identified to her as the alleged perpetrator; and she was told that Ms D’s father, Mr D, was a colleague of Sgt McCabe.
In her notes of the visit to Ms D’s home, Ms Murphy recorded the name of Sgt McCabe and his wife, details pertaining to their children, including their ages, and the McCabes’ address.
Ms Murphy was asked at the tribunal who gave her these details. She said she couldn’t recall but assumed it was Mr D.
She was also asked if the visit to Ms D’s home took place before or after the meeting of the child protection committee but Ms Murphy could not recall.
The tribunal heard Ms Murphy shared a telephone call with Inspector Noel Cunningham on December 14, 2006, but she said she had no specific memory of the phonecall.
The tribunal heard Inspector Cunningham was investigating Ms D’s allegation at the time and was putting together a file for the DPP.
Also on December 14, 2006, Ms Murphy’s handwritten notes about the visit to Ms D’s home were sent to child protection officers in the CSA team, Orla Curran and Emer O’Neill – with the purpose of informing the CSA of her assessment of Ms D.
The tribunal heard a note was attached to these notes, stating ‘FAO Noel Cunningham’. But Ms Murphy told the tribunal she had no recollection of sending the notes to Inspector Cunningham or, in fact, sending any evidence to Inspector Cunningham.
She agreed that the fax number on the documents was a Monaghan fax number.
Separately, Ms Murphy told the tribunal that Inspector Cunningham later provided her with a copy of Ms D’s statement directly.
The tribunal heard that minutes of another child protection committee meeting, held in April 2007, show that, among other matters, it was decided that a principal social worker in Meath be contacted; and that Sgt McCabe should be offered a risk assessment.
When asked if any of these steps were taken, Ms Murphy said she couldn’t answer that as she had no role in that.
At this meeting, it was also understood that the HSE’s CSA team had finished their work with Ms D; she had attended 2/3 appointments and then disengaged. The DPP had come back and directed that there be no prosecution at this point.
Ms Murphy told the tribunal that she closed the case pertaining to Ms D in October 2007 with her decision signed off by her superior Mary Tierney in November 2007.
During cross-examination by Mr McDowell, Ms Murphy said Ms D was happy to be discharged from the HSE’s service in May 2006 – some seven months before Ms D made an allegation against Sgt McCabe.
During a home visit in May 2006, Mrs D said things had improved for her daughter and she appeared to be back to herself.
Asked to confirm if there was no complaint made against Sgt McCabe at this time, Ms Murphy said: “Yes, correct.”
After Ms Murphy closed the case in October 2007, she wrote a letter to her superior, acting principal social work manager Mary O’Reilly, concerning Sgt McCabe.
Ms Murphy said she had a “vague” memory of this letter.
The tribunal heard that, in the letter, she noted that Sgt McCabe had not yet been met by a social work team member.
She told the tribunal that Sgt McCabe was supposed to have been met by a social worker from Meath as, she understood, Sgt McCabe was the garda liaison officer for the HSE in Cavan/Monaghan and the go-to person for matters concerning child protection in the area.
When asked by Mr McDowell if, in her letter, she had been suggesting that Sgt McCabe should be met by a social worker, Ms Murphy said: “Any alleged perpetrator should be met.”
Mr McDowell later told the tribunal that Sgt McCabe was not the appointed garda liaison officer for the HSE.
Mr McDowell also said no such meeting took place and Sgt McCabe was not informed of the allegations that were made against him at that time.
“Nobody bothered to approach him,” Mr McDowell said.
The tribunal also heard that a credibility assessment was never carried out on Ms D. Ms Murphy said it would have been unfair on Ms D, an adolescent, “to go through the allegation time and time again”.
Mr Justice Charleton asked – in light of Ms Murphy’s letter to Ms O’Reilly in 2007 – if the Barr letter procedure applied in respect of Sgt McCabe.
This procedure is related to a series of guidelines set down in a judgement by Mr Justice Barr in 1997 which advises the HSE to take all reasonable steps to interview an alleged abuser; give the alleged abuser notice of the allegations ahead of the interview; and invite them to respond.
Mr Charleton pointed out that such a letter was sent to Sgt McCabe in 2015, “literally out of the blue nine years after it should have been sent”.
Like Ms Murphy, the second witness Mary O’Reilly also couldn’t recall the meeting of December 2006 in which Ms D’s allegation against Sgt McCabe was discussed and the steps to follow-up action were agreed.
In relation to a child protection committee meeting on April 24, 2007, Ms O’Reilly said she didn’t have a specific recollection of the meeting but she said the committee, at that point, was “anxious that [Sgt McCabe] was made aware of the complaint” made against him by Ms D.
“This was particularly complex. This is someone we knew. We knew him,” Ms O’Reilly said. “The guidelines were not robust enough at this time.”
It was suggested to Ms O’Reilly that this was why it was thought she might be able to recall more details. She said: “I have tried to remember, I’m very sorry. I genuinely have tried to remember this.”
She said usually looking at reports would trigger her memory but, in this case, it hasn’t happened.
Ms O’Reilly said she had a vague memory of contacting social workers in Meath “and we said they wouldn’t be involved”. She later said she couldn’t recall these discussions.
She admitted that procedure wasn’t followed in terms of Sgt McCabe being given a summary of the allegation and being afforded the opportunity to respond.
Ms O’Reilly referred to the potential offer of such a ‘risk assessment’ to Sgt McCabe – which didn’t happen until 2015 – as a ‘service’ – prompting Justice Charleton to ask what kind of cheerful service involves someone ringing up another saying ‘we want to assess you for child abuse”?
Ms O’Reilly was asked on which file minutes of meetings pertaining to Sgt McCabe were placed and she said they would have been placed on either of Ms D’s files – her social work file or CSA team file, as there was no file opened on Sgt McCabe.
She also said she had “no memory of receiving” the letter from October 2007, from Ms Murphy, in which Ms Murphy raised concerns that Sgt McCabe hadn’t been seen by a social worker.
The third witness was Laura Brophy, the psychologist and counsellor who met with Ms D on July 24, 2013 and August 7, 2013.
Asked how Ms D was referred, Ms Brophy said it was a self-referral and that Ms D contacted the Rian counselling service herself.
Ms Brophy explained that if a person who makes a claim of abuse and identifies the alleged abuser, then she has a duty to inform Tusla. It is then up to Tusla to contact the gardai.
Ms Brophy told the tribunal that, in her first meeting with Ms D, Ms D outlined the allegation she had made previously against Sgt McCabe and, while she didn’t identify Sgt McCabe per se, she said he was a colleague of her father, a guard. She said she didn’t recall the alleged incident until she was 12 or 13.
Ms Brophy – who said she made it clear to Ms D that once an alleged abuser is identified she would have to notify Tusla – said the purpose of the second meeting was to obtain the identification of the alleged abuser.
This identification was made during the second meeting of August 7, 2013. During this meeting, Ms D also made it clear to Ms Brophy that the case had been closed.
Ms Brophy said, at this point, her concern wasn’t about a criminal case, but more about child protection.
The tribunal heard that, prior to being informed of Sgt McCabe’s identity, on July 30, 2013, she spoke to a social worker and asked hypothetically – without identifying Ms D – what would or could happen about the type of allegation that Ms D had disclosed.
Ms Brophy said she was told that nothing could have been guaranteed at that point. She also explained that she told Ms D she would find out what she could for Ms D and that Ms D was concerned that Sgt McCabe would become aware of her identity.
At the tribunal Ms Brophy was asked if the fact that, at that time, Sgt McCabe was regarded as a whistleblower – which is what Ms Brophy’s superior Fiona Ward regarded him as – if that meant anything to her? She said it didn’t.
She said she understood her knowledge of the term ‘whistleblower’ being associated with Sgt McCabe came from Ms D and that this was referred on to Ms Brophy’s superior Fiona Ward.
Ms Brophy was then in contact by phone with social worker Briege Tinnelly to ask her if there was a record of Ms D’s complaint against Sgt McCabe. Ms Brophy said Ms Tinnelly checked to see and there wasn’t.
Ms Brophy said if she had been made aware that the matter had already been referred she wouldn’t have sought to refer it.
In light of this, Ms Brophy submitted a retrospective disclosure of abuse report to Ms Tinnelly which would have also been furnished to Ms Ward, on August 9, 2013.
It was this report that contained the more serious allegation of rape pertaining to a whole other client, Ms Y – whose separate individual report, Ms Brophy said, would also have been seen by Ms Ward previously.
Ms Brophy said she couldn’t definitively say how she input the data but she said there was a template or a few templates on her computer desktop. She said the report was typed on a Microsoft Word document or template.
She said she’s tried to recollect but it’s “not crystal clear’. She said she has previous reports saved on her PC. In some cases she saves them, in others, she deletes them.
Ms Brophy’s report included the description of abuse that pertained to Ms Y – of digital penetration both vaginal and anal – and the claim that the alleged perpetrator would also threaten Ms Y’s father if she said anything.
These claims had nothing to do with Ms D while Ms Y’s real name was spelled out in relation to these points.
Meanwhile, Ms D’s name, address and date of birth were also on the form – meaning there were two inconsistent names on the form.
Ms Brophy said nobody contacted her about her report from August 2013 until May 14, 2014, when she received a phone message from Ms D.
At this time, Ms Brophy was transferring her case to the South East, where Ms D was now living.
Ms D informed Ms Brophy that there was an error in her report on her. Ms D said to her: “You said I was raped?” or words to that effect. Ms Brophy immediately apologised to Ms D and said “I know you weren’t”.
“When I saw the error in black and white, I apologised immediately. I said I would contact social services. I tried to reassure Ms D on the phone, acknowledged the mistake, complete mistake on my part. I rang Fiona Ward social services in an attempt to resolve it,” Ms Brophy told the tribunal.
Ms Brophy immediately set about trying to get the social services in Cavan – the head of which was Eileen Argue – and the South East service she had referred Ms D to, to shred the erroneous report.
This included Ms Brophy hand-delivering a letter outlining what happened, to social services in Cavan. She said the service in the South East wrote back to her to say it would delete the report.
The tribunal heard that Ms D was able to tell Ms Brophy that there was a report in Baileboro Garda Station in relation to the matter.
Asked if Ms D became aware of this through her father, a garda, Ms Brophy said: “Not entirely clear. Just that she had come into that knowledge.”
Ms Brophy said while Ms D didn’t quote for the misleading report, she had detailed knowledge.
Ms Brophy said Ms D contacted her a second time, wanting to clarify everything and she “wanted to know if another person had made the allegation against Sgt McCabe”.
In addition, Ms Brophy told the tribunal that Ms D asked if Ms Brophy would contact the superintendent in the garda station but, Ms Brophy hadn’t given it to gardai, she said she would contact social services to see if they had already done so.
Ms Brophy spent some time trying to find out the identity of chief supt.
On May 15, 2014, in an email to her superior Fiona Ward, Ms Brophy said Eileen Argue, a social work team leader, had been in contact with the chief supt but that Ms Argue could not guarantee the return of the report by the chief supt.
On May 16, in another email to Ms Ward, Ms Brophy said she’d spoken to Supt Leo McGinn and that he had not received an update on that the matter and that it was now “over to the commissioner”.
Ms Brophy said she’s not sure if Supt McGinn meant the Garda Commissioner, or Deputy Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner, etc.
Ms D called Ms Brophy again on May 16, 2014 in which Ms D said the superintendent at Baileboro was still not informed of the error.
Further to this, Ms Brophy sent a letter by registered post to Leo McGinn stating that, further to their call about the error, she’d amended the report and enclosed a corrected report. She apologised and requested that any copy of the erroneous report be retracted and replaced.
This letter was also sent to Fiona Ward.
On May 20, Ms Brophy emailed Ms Ward again, stating that she was still waiting to hear back from Eileen Argue about the chief superintendent [James Sheridan] because when she had spoken to Supt Leo McGinn the previous week, he knew nothing about it.
Ms Brophy told the tribunal that she started working with Ms Y on June 5, 2013 and finalised her report on Ms Y in June. She said she made three other reports between that of Ms Y and Ms D.
Ms Brophy said she made no errors in the other three reports.
Ms Brophy will be cross-examined by Sgt McCabe’s counsel from 9.30am today.
UPDATE: Transcript of first day’s proceedings can be read here