From top: Lorraine and Maurice McCabe; Cathal McMahon and John Kierans
Cathal McMahon worked as a crime reporter with the Irish Mirror between July 2012 and June 2014 – roughly the same period of time that Supt Dave Taylor was the head of the Garda Press Office.
He told the Disclosures Tribunal that sometime in early 2014 – and most likely in January or February 2014 – he was told by a source that Sgt Maurice McCabe had been investigated over an allegation of child sex abuse in the Cavan area and that “the allegation was historic in nature”.
Mr McMahon didn’t identify this source to the tribunal.
But he confirmed it was neither Supt Taylor, the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan or the then Deputy Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
He also confirmed it wasn’t any member of An Garda Síochána.
Asked what he did with this information, Mr McMahon said:
“I then contacted Superintendent Dave Taylor, who was at the time the Press Officer, and he confirmed the story as I had given it to him, and the only addition was that he suggested that maybe I should go to Cavan and find further details there.”
Mr McMahon said Supt Taylor – whom he contacted directly by phone – didn’t direct him to go to anyone in particular in Cavan and Mr McMahon didn’t ask him to point to anyone in particular.
He said he was “dubious” about the allegation because “obviously if the allegation was true, it would have been investigated, he may have been brought before the courts”.
He said he wasn’t aware of the outcome of the investigation into Ms D’s complaint and that he and Supt Taylor did not discuss the DPP’s directions regarding Ms Ds complaint.
Mr McMahon said, after speaking with Supt Taylor, he thought the next prudent step was to talk to his editor John Kierans – whom, Mr McMahon said, told him he didn’t feel it was a story worth pursuing. Mr McMahon said he was satisfied with this response.
But the tribunal heard Mr Kierans – in a statement to the tribunal, before he gave evidence – say that he thought Mr McMahon was “disappointed” with this response.
When this was put to Mr McMahon, he said that wasn’t his memory of what happened.
Mr McMahon told the tribunal about his interaction with Supt Taylor in June 2018, after his former editor John Kierans first told the tribunal of the matter in the same month.
Similarly to other journalists, the tribunal wrote to Mr McMahon in March and April 2017 – but “no substantial reply” was received.
When Mr McMahon was asked why he didn’t tell the tribunal about this encounter with Supt Taylor from the outset, Mr McMahon said:
“I sought legal counsel at the time, and I was taken to believe that my evidence didn’t fall within the terms of reference of the Tribunal. I obviously had serious concerns about the protection of sources, as a number of colleagues in other newspapers have raised.
“I didn’t write anything about this story. I never pursued the story outside a very short conversation. I wasn’t negatively briefed about Sergeant McCabe by any of the people mentioned as part of the terms of reference of this Tribunal. And I also wasn’t named by Superintendent Dave Taylor as one of the 11 journalists he said he had negatively briefed.”
Mr McMahon wasn’t named by Supt Taylor when he initially claimed to have negatively briefed nine journalists – Paul Williams, of the Irish Independent; Paul Reynolds, of RTE; John Mooney, of The Sunday Times; Michael O’Toole, of the Irish Daily Star; Juno McEnroe, of the Irish Examiner; Cormac O’Keeffe, of the Irish Examiner; Daniel McConnell, of the Irish Examiner; Conor Lally, of The Irish Times and John Burke, of RTE – about Sgt McCabe.
He later added two – Debbie McCann, of the Irish Mail on Sunday, and Eavan Murray, of The Irish Sun – after the D family told the tribunal that the two journalists had separately called to their house in early 2014 – in an attempt to talk about Ms D and Sgt McCabe.
None of these journalists confirmed Supt Taylor’s claim that he negatively briefed them, and Mr McMahon also told the tribunal that Supt Taylor never negatively briefed him.
But in relation to this position, that he wasn’t negatively briefed by Supt Taylor, Mr McMahon had this exchange with Kathleen Leader BL, for the tribunal.
Leader: “You say you weren’t negatively briefed about Sergeant McCabe, but at the same time you’re saying you did speak to Superintendent Taylor in relation to the D allegation, as it is referred to here, and he pointed you in a particular direction. Do you consider that negatively briefing?”
McMahon: “It was a direction I already knew. He was merely repeating what I had already said to him — in terms of the location of where the allegation had come from.”
Leader: “Right. But, for instance, Superintendent Taylor could say, look, there’s nothing to that and leave it at that, instead of pointing you in a particular direction, maybe — maybe it does actually constitute negative briefing, pointing you in a particular direction, hinting that you should take the story a bit further, do you see that now, with the benefit of hindsight?”
McMahon: “I’m not quite sure what you are asking, sorry.”
Judge Peter Charleton then attempted to tease out Ms Leader’s question for Mr McMahon when they had the following exchange:
Charleton: “In other words, counsel’s question, as I understand it, is this: You hear a rumour, then you go to someone who is expected to know whether the rumour
is true or not, but the person then confirms the rumour, and added on to that is, well, what I would take as an invitation to go and look into the matter further and the place you need to look into it is indeed the area you mentioned. That is counsel’s question.”
Charleton: “So that –”
McMahon: “Are you asking me if I should have come forward sooner?”
Charleton: “No, I think — I know what counsel is actually asking you is, I suppose, the definition of negative briefing, do you see that as being helpful to Sergeant McCabe or not helpful to Sergeant McCabe? If it was you they were talking about –”
McMahon: “I understand.”
Charleton: “– that there was an historical allegation of sex abuse, that it happened in relation to a child, if they went to your editor and if they asked the question, look, is it true what they say about this fellow, and the editor confirmed it, yes, and furthermore, if you want to find out more, the place to go is Drumcondra, where this thing happened, counsel is asking you how would you feel about that?”
McMahon: “Yes, I understand.”
McMahon: “So are you asking me to say if I feel like I should have taken different steps?”
Leader: “Well, no, do you think now, having heard it explained to you in those terms, that that constitutes negative briefing?”
McMahon: “I don’t believe I was negatively briefed.”
It was also put to Mr McMahon by John Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor, that because Supt Taylor didn’t set him straight on the Ms D allegation – that that was a form of negative briefing.
Mr McMahon accepted that that was Mr Ferry’s view.
Mr Ferry also told Mr McMahon that Supt Taylor maintained that Mr McMahon was a journalist whom he negatively briefed about Sgt McCabe at crime scenes and during phone conversations.
But Mr McMahon maintained that this was not correct and that they only had the one interaction about Sgt McCabe, referred to above.
Mr Ferry also put it to Mr McMahon that it was Supt Taylor’s case that Mr McMahon didn’t go to Supt Taylor about Sgt McCabe and Ms D but, instead, Supt Taylor briefed Mr McMahon.
Mr McMahon said: “That is simply not true.”
And in regards to Mr McMahon’s claim that Supt Taylor directed him to Cavan, Mr Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor, said Supt Taylor maintains “he never referred or directed any journalist to travel to Cavan”.
When Mr Kierans gave his evidence to the tribunal, he said he didn’t have much to say in dispute with Mr McMahon.
Recalling the day Mr McMahon told him about the Ms D allegation, which was the first time Mr Kierans heard about the allegation, Mr Kierans said:
“Basically, Cathal got this really good story, came in to us, we had a meeting in the boardroom in the office in Dublin, he said that he had a cracking story about that Sergeant McCabe had been questioned over the abuse of a child. I was quite shocked, you know. In our world we would have looked at it as one hell of a story, but my antenna was up and I felt that something wasn’t right.
“And it’s one thing for somebody to be questioned by the police, but my view of it was, well, why hadn’t he been charged, you know. And, like, we talked about the story. I don’t really — because it’s four or five years ago, I don’t really remember the full discussion I had with Cathal, to be honest about it, and, you know, I took a decision, you know, I spoke to the news desk about it, some of my executives, and over the next couple of days Cathal said that he’d go to Cavan, and I told him not to, that I wanted to hold off, that I just felt something was wrong here, that I didn’t really believe it.
“My view of it was, you know, this was a very, very serious story, if we are going to run it, the risks to the publication from a defamation point of view would have been absolutely huge, you know, we were talking about millions, making an allegation, if it turned out to be false, against a Garda whistleblower, and also the fact that Sergeant McCabe had been a whistleblower also, you know, I don’t always believe everything that I’m told by governments or by the police. So, for that reason, I kind of decided that we’d back off.
“Now, I didn’t believe the story and I wasn’t going to run it, so I more or less told Cathal to just concentrate on other things, that I wasn’t going to take a risk on it, and I didn’t really believe it in my gut, to be perfectly honest.”
“…And then the other thing that was in my head: Why are the cops telling us this? You know, why are the gardaí telling us that Maurice McCabe has been questioned over a child sex abuse allegation, you know? And the fact that he was a whistleblower, you know, I kind of said there’s something not right here. So again, in my gut, I felt my antenna was up and I walked away from the story. I’m glad I did because it was absolutely totally untrue.”
Mr Kierans told the tribunal that Mr McMahon never told him the identity of his initial source but he did think it was Supt Taylor, however he said he accepted that Mr McMahon had told the tribunal that this wasn’t the case.
Mr Kierans told the tribunal Mr McMahon is an honest individual.
“I just couldn’t believe that the cops were spinning it, that’s the way I had seen it, that they so easily confirmed — you know, Cathal said that the guards had confirmed it. I can’t remember if I asked him specifically who it was, but I assumed it was Dave Taylor. Like, in fairness to Cathal, he’s a very honest reporter, always has been, he would always tell you the truth, and, as a journalist, he would never, ever put you wrong on a story. He’s a very low-key guy. He’s not one of those guys who wants to be on television every night of the week, and he’s a very honest individual.”
He also reiterated how suspicious he was of what had been confirmed to Mr McMahon, saying:
“It also kind of alarms me as well when the Garda Press Office were confirming a story against an existing member of their own force, right, because normally if a member of the Garda Síochána is in any trouble, they tend to cover it up from one end of the country to another, because they really stand together, the guards.”
Mr Kierans did see Paul Williams’ first article about Sgt McCabe and Ms D in the Irish Independent on April 12, 2014. Asked if he was regretting his decision not to send Mr McMahon to Cavan, Mr Kierans said:
“Absolutely not. I thought they were mad in the head to run it. Because it was anonymous, it was no names, what did it mean? Like, to Joe public, unless people are named, they don’t really know who they are. So you had a garda questioned over an allegation of paedophilia and there was no more detail, you know, so it was all anonymous. And you had quotes from the victim, is my recollection of it.
“So my view is, I didn’t care less, that is their business, and I suspect they’ll probably pay a price for it.“
Mr Kierans, like Mr McMahon, didn’t tell the tribunal the information above until he gave a statement to the tribunal in June 2018.
Asked about this delay, he said:
“I like to tell the truth as best I can and I think this Tribunal is really important, I think that the Irish people have a right to know what was going on in the Gardaí at this particular time of our history, and when the investigators initially came into my office and interviewed me and they asked me had we come across any stories in relation to Maurice McCabe, and I didn’t remember any.
“And then subsequent to that, I think it was on the day I was due to come in here to give evidence, I had a phone call with somebody and then it just triggered a memory that I had and I mentioned it to my lawyer and he said, well, you’d better make a new statement to the Tribunal, and this is how it came about that this story that Cathal had, I had completely forgotten about it, and Cathal had been out of my mind because he’d left the Mirror and moved on to other publications, and that’s how it came to be.”
Mr Kierans didn’t tell the tribunal who he had spoken with on the phone.
He also went on to say he believes that when a source waives their privilege, journalistic privilege no longer applies.
“I think we’ve spent a lifetime cultivating our contacts and we build them up, and especially real confidential informants, it takes a lot of time and trust, and a lot of these people are your best friends and, you know, but if somebody wants — if a contact came to me and wanted to be identified, I would have no problem with it.
“But I have to say and I point out that in 38 years I have never had a contact who came to me, you know. But in this case Mr Taylor has identified himself, so I personally see no problem with it. I think privilege is something that should be cherished and it’s really important for our industry, and equally, I don’t think it should be misused either.”
Mr Kierans also told the tribunal that, after Mr McMahon brought his attention to the Ms D matter, “I would have discovered then over the following two or three weeks that that story had been peddled around town by Superintendent Taylor to a number of other news outlets”.
He latter added:
“I don’t know who he briefed or who he didn’t briefed. All I’m telling you is, my understanding was that that story that we came across was peddled around other newsrooms.”
In response to this, Judge Peter Charleton asked Mr Ferry BL, for Supt Taylor, to find out what Supt Taylor’s response was to that claim.
The judge also made a lengthy plea for anyone with information to come forward and suggested there may be consequences for those with information who weren’t coming forward then but may go public in the future.
“The evidence now from Mr Kierans is that this particular story was peddled around the town to at least two or three other newsrooms or news editors by Superintendent Taylor, and I think it is up to him to say whether that happened or not and what the names of those people are. And whereas I am grateful, obviously, to the media, and from time to time I see, because I do read the newspapers and I get both entertainment and instruction from them, perhaps colourful things that I have said in relation to, I don’t know, Kurosawa or anything else like that coming up, but this is a very serious matter.
“I mean, this thing is beginning to come to an end and I would be grateful if the message would go forth through whatever media are present in the room, there is actually a duty on people who actually know something about this to come forward. I made that plea back in February 2017, and here is yet another variation of people not coming forward, perhaps, perhaps suppressing matters, here is a view being expressed in relation to a situation where an individual has completely waived their privilege.
“If people say they have a privilege but they know something, I would much rather know that, than for them to simply, if it is the case, sit in their office blocks and not come to the Tribunal and not communicate.
“There is a website. communicate. There is a phone line. It is manned. It will be manned indeed all day on Saturday. This matter is coming close to an end. And I regard it as not a legal obligation, but much, much more serious than that: a patriotic obligation of people who know something to come forward so that the people of Ireland aren’t left in the daft situation that people who know things in the journalistic profession have not come forward to speak, but, nonetheless, will be able to write articles about what happened to them in the aftermath of the Tribunal report appearing.
“Now, in the event that that happens, the people of Ireland will no doubt take their own view as to the credibility of the persons who do that and that may indeed cause damage to the media outlets who may be involved in this, and I don’t know if they are or not, much worse than any libel action on earth; in other words, people simply stop trusting journalists. And it is important that they do, because journalists fulfil an extremely important function within our society and one which personally I value very highly.”
Mr Ferry later told Judge Charleton that “there’s no other names that he [Supt Taylor] wishes to add to the list”.
Judge Charleton said it wasn’t “a question of wishing. It’s a question of actually assisting in this process”.
Mr Ferry repeated there were no other journalists’ named to be added to Supt Taylor’s list but he confirmed for the judge that Supt Taylor didn’t brief editors or newsrooms directly – he claims he simply told certain journalists.
As Mr Kierans wouldn’t tell the tribunal which newsrooms he believed were “peddled” the matters concerning Sgt McCabe and Ms D, Ms Leader BL, for the tribunal, had the following exchange with Mr Kierans.
Leader: “I just wonder if I could ask you the question in another way. The Tribunal knows that DMG Media [Mail] was aware of this story from the evidence Debbie McCann has given to the Tribunal; the Tribunal also knows that Independent News and Media was aware of the story from evidence given by Mr [Paul] Williams; the Tribunal also knows the Irish Times was aware of the story from Mr [Conor] Lally’s evidence; and there was also, Mr [Michael] O’Toole was aware of the story who I think is The Star?”
Leader: “The Daily Star?”
Leader: “And then we have Ms [Eavan] Murray’s evidence from The Sun?”
Kierans: “The Sun.”
Leader: “Are there any other newsrooms that the Tribunal should be aware of?”
Kierans: “Not that I’m aware of, no.”
Leader: “All right. Thank you very much.”
Judge Peter Charleton is due to publish his report in October. He examined allegations made by former head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor that he was instructed by former Commissioner Martin Callinan, with the knowledge of then Deputy Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, to convey to journalists that an investigation into the Ms D allegation against Sgt McCabe was the “root cause” of Sgt McCabe’s whistleblowing. The DPP ruled Ms D’s allegation had no foundation in April 2007 while Mr Callinan and Ms O’Sullivan both deny Supt Taylor’s claims.
Previously: Maurice McCabe And The Irish Daily Star