Michael O’Toole, of the Irish Daily Star, above and top left, arriving at the Disclosures Tribunal yesterday
In Dublin Castle.
The Disclosures Tribunal is scheduled to hear evidence from the editor of the Irish Mail on Sunday Conor O’Donnell, Group Editor at Associated Newspapers (Mail) Sebastian Hamilton, Conor Lally, of The Irish Times, and Paul Reynolds of RTÉ.
Yesterday afternoon, the tribunal – which is examining allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe as alleged by the former head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor – heard from Michael O’Toole, assistant editor and crime correspondent of the Irish Daily Star, gave evidence.
While claiming privilege, Mr O’Toole has categorically told the tribunal that no guard ever smeared Sgt Maurice McCabe to him.
He said he did hear a rumour about Sgt McCabe in 2010/2011 – before Supt Dave Taylor started working in the Garda Press Office in the summer of 2012.
Mr O’Toole said:
“A very experienced journalist with significant access to the political world first raised this with me…He raised it with me and I said ‘I don’t think there’s anything to this’.”
Mr O’Toole said he then went and checked the matter with a contact who is not someone who works in Garda HQ.
“I was lucky enough to have a contact who knows Sergeant McCabe – I can’t say who it is, but he spoke very highly of him, he called him Maurice, he said he had worked with him, said he was a very competent Sergeant, he had done files with him and he explained the background of the investigation and the outcome of the DPP’s file.
So once I heard that, the matter was dead for me, because there was absolutely no story for me in this. I don’t think any journalist in their right mind, once they hear that the DPP has not only directed no charges, but said it’s – whatever the phrase is – it was very unlikely that any offence was disclosed, I don’t think any journalist in their right mind would consider writing anything about this. The issue was dead for me.”
Mr O’Toole added that this took place at some point after an article appeared in The Sunday Times, by John Mooney, in November 2010, in which Sgt McCabe was named as having made complaints about policing in Cavan/Monaghan.
Mr O’Toole said:
“I know that Sergeant McCabe was named for the first time by the Sunday Times, I think it was 2010. So it would’ve been after that, because this other journalist came to me with this rumour….I think the Sunday Times named him in 2010. It was John Mooney wrote the story.”
The tribunal thanked him for bringing this to their attention.
He’s also told the tribunal that, as far as he can recollect, no journalist ever went to him with any rumours about Sgt McCabe in 2012, 2013 or 2014.
And he said – in relation to the 11 journalists named by Supt Dave Taylor as having been negatively briefed by him, which includes Mr Mooney – Mr O’Toole said:
“I can say the journalists that I would be close to, other journalists, you know, there are active crime correspondents that I would be particularly friendly with and we never, this never came up…I would be closer to some and not others. But yes, I would know them all….No, never [the matter never came up with these journalists] The issue was dead for me…”
It was put to Mr O’Toole, by Patrick Marrinan SC, for the tribunal, that Mr O’Toole had recently come into “possession of some information that the tribunal is looking into” and that Mr O’Toole is to make a short statement to that effect.
The tribunal didn’t hear any further details on this.
The tribunal heard that, from Supt Taylor’s billings records, it would seem that Mr O’Toole had approximately 240 telephone contacts with Supt Taylor between August 2013 and when the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan stood down, in March 2014.
Mr O’Toole wouldn’t confirm his phone number to the tribunal – saying that to do so might lead to the identification of sources:
“I refuse to engage with anybody in any State or official aspect about my mobile phone.”
As he wouldn’t confirm his phone number, Mr O’Toole also wouldn’t confirm to Judge Peter Charleton that he had around 10 telephone conversations with Supt Taylor every month during that timeframe.
John Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor, put to Mr O’Toole that, while he’s claimed the Ms D issue was “dead” for him – once he learned of the DPP’s directions – that that’s separate to the idea that the Ms D matter was the motivation for Sgt McCabe making complaints about policing, which Supt Taylor claims he was telling journalists.
Mr O’Toole said:
“I’m going to claim privilege in that. But again to stress, I have no interest in anybody’s motivation in telling me anything. People tell me things. I talk to people who perhaps shouldn’t be talking to me and are afraid to talk to me. So I never question why, I question the accuracy of what they say.”
Mr O’Toole repeatedly told the tribunal that nobody smeared Sgt McCabe to him and said Supt Taylor’s claim that he could have done so while they were at a crime scene was “preposterous” as such scenes are “chaotic”.
And he confirmed:
“Nobody in the Press Office maligned, smeared, negatively briefed, mentioned Maurice McCabe to me.”
Mr O’Toole also told the tribunal that he has been “vexed” by some media coverage about crime reporters concerning Sgt McCabe.
“I have to admit I was vexed by the suggestion that crime reporters, including myself, were used in this smear. I was very disappointed by some of the reportage. I know, look, I’m sure they’re all lovely people, but I know there was evidence last week about the Sunday Times piece saying that crime reporters were at the centre of this briefing. That story rankled with me at the time and it has rankled with me ever since. All she had to do was ring me and ask me or ring any other journalist and we would say ‘I wasn’t part of any campaign’. I was very, very disappointed, because that came into the public commentariat.”
It’s understood Mr O’Toole is referring to this piece in The Sunday Times by Justine McCarthy from February 2017.
Later, when Noel Whelan BL, for An Garda Siochana, asked Mr O’Toole questions about the person who set him straight in terms of the DPP’s directions, Mr O’Toole said:
“I had someone with a knowledge of it, I’m not going to say if he was a Garda or a retired member, but I had someone who I trusted implicitly, I’ve known that person for a very, very, very long time, someone of the highest integrity – as I said, he called this person Maurice, so there’s obviously some sort of personal relationship there. And he gave me enough, more than enough detail for me to accept that this person knew what was happening. And that was the end of it for me.”
Mr O’Toole told the tribunal the Sgt McCabe story was more of a political story than a crime story. In respect of the journalists who went to the D house in early 2014 seemingly seeking a story from Ms D – Debbie McCann, of the Irish Mail on Sunday, Eavan Murray, of The Irish Sun, and Paul WIlliams, of the Irish Independent – Mr O’Toole said:
“I had no interest in it. Sergeant McCabe was declared innocent by the DPP. I mean, what sort of journalist in their right mind would go after this story? Some journalists think, believe it or not some journalists [think] they’re Gardaí, some think that they’re solicitors. I’m a journalist, that’s my job.”
It should be noted that, last summer, the tribunal heard from Ms D’s father Mr D that Mr O’Toole did try to contact him via Facebook in early 2014.
Mr D said they didn’t talk about the Ms D case.
Mr O’Toole wasn’t asked about this alleged attempt to contact Mr D.
On July 13, 2017, Mr O’Toole sent out the following tweet:
Hacks saying the DPP “dismissed” allegations. Really? I thought it either said enough evidence for a charge or not. #DisclosuresTribunal
— Michael O’Toole 🇮🇪🇪🇺 (@mickthehack) July 13, 2017
The tweet, which was was liked by fellow tribunal witness Debbie McCann, of the Irish Mail on Sunday, appears to contradict some of Mr O’Toole’s testimony. It was also not raised during Mr O’Toole’s questioning yesterday.
The tribunal continues.
Previously: Disclosures, Denials And The Journalists