From top: Michael O’Toole; Lorraine and Maurice McCabe with Michael McDowell SC; since deleted tweets from Mr O’Toole last Summer
The assistant editor and crime correspondent of the Irish Daily Star Michael O’Toole gave evidence to the Disclosures Tribunal.
Mr O’Toole was named by Supt Dave Taylor as one of the journalists whom he negatively briefed as part of the alleged smear campaign against whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe between mid-2013 and the end of March 2014.
Mr O’Toole told the tribunal he was never “negatively briefed” by Supt Taylor and that no member of An Garda Síochána ever smeared Sgt McCabe to him.
He said he did hear a rumour about Sgt McCabe in 2010/2011 from “a very experienced journalist with significant access to the political world” – before Supt Dave Taylor started working in the Garda Press Office in the summer of 2012.
Mr O’Toole said he then checked out the rumour with a contact and satisfied himself there was nothing to the rumour as he learned of the DPP’s directions which included the line:
“Even if there wasn’t a doubt over her credibility, the incident that she describes does not constitute a sexual assault or indeed an assault… there is no basis for prosecution.”
So categorical was Mr O’Toole’s testimony – and that of fellow crime and security correspondents John Mooney, of The Sunday Times, and Conor Lally, of The Irish Times – it was relied upon by Shane Murphy SC, for An Garda Síochána, when the Garda legal team made its final submission to Judge Peter Charleton to point out a weakness in Supt Taylor’s claim.
Their testimony was used to point out that some journalists knew of the Ms D allegation several years before Supt Taylor was allegedly briefing journalists about it in 2013/2014.
Mr Murphy said:
“… we say the task of the Tribunal is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Tribunal has heard extensive evidence of stories indicating the wider circulation of rumours about Sergeant McCabe in media, political and Garda circles in 2014 and 2013.
Knowledge of the fact that Sergeant McCabe had been the subject of a complaint of sexual assault was known to some journalists, specifically involved in covering policing and crime issues, from as early as 2011.
“And this has emerged also in the course of the evidence in this Tribunal. Chairman, you will remember the evidence of crime reporter Michael O’Toole of The Star newspaper, where he said he heard it some time around then and that he heard it from a non-Garda source.
Similar evidence was given by John Mooney, crime correspondent the Sunday times. Mr Conor Lally also gave evidence that he heard about this around 2010/2011.
“This of course was long before the period being considered by this Tribunal and indeed before the beginning of the alleged campaign which Superintendent Taylor alleged he was instructed and directed to begin, in the middle of 2013.”
Mr Murphy went on to quote directly from Mr O’Toole’s evidence, saying:
“It’s noteworthy that at that stage Mr O’Toole, having become aware from sources which were non-Garda sources, was moved to explore the allegation and he has told you that he promptly established from local Garda sources not only that no charges had been directed against Sergeant McCabe but that there was no substance to the allegations.
And Mr O’Toole when he spoke to you about that uttered the phrase, very memorable phrase, he said “the matter was dead to me from then on”.”
This memorable phrase was also used by Conor Lally, of The Irish Times, when he told the tribunal, a day after Mr O’Toole gave evidence:
“…it was a dead piece of information from the off.“
Mr O’Toole said the matter was “dead” for him four times during the course of his evidence.
“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.”
He later said:
“After I heard about the DPP’s directions. The issue was dead for me.”
And, again later, repeated:
“The issue was dead for me…”
Despite this Mr O’Toole tweeted last summer about journalists’ coverage of the Tusla module of the Disclosures Tribunal and how they reported that the DPP had “dismissed” Ms D’s claim.
On July 13, 2017, Mr O’Toole tweeted:
“Hacks saying the DPP “dismissed” allegations. Really? I thought it either said enough evidence for a charge or not. #DisclosuresTribunal”
In a follow-up tweet, he asked:
“I mean what does ‘dismiss’ even mean?’
The idea of “enough evidence for a charge or not” chimes with some previous evidence the tribunal heard.
When Ms D, Mr D and Mrs D gave evidence, neither of them were specifically asked about what Supt Noel Cunningham – who carried out the initial investigation into Ms D’s claim in 2006 – told them of the DPP’s directions in 2007.
But, when Ms D gave evidence, while recalling her annoyance over RIAN counsellor Laura Brophy wanting to refer her claim to Tusla in the summer of 2013, Ms D told the tribunal, she told Ms Brophy:
“I said that this case had already been investigated, the DPP came back to say that there was insufficient evidence…”
When Ms Brophy gave evidence to the tribunal she said, during her initial assessment of Ms D in which Ms D made her allegation against Sgt McCabe, Ms Brophy wrote down:
“DPP returned file due to lack of evidence.”
And while Supt Cunningham gave evidence to the tribunal, Michael McDowell, SC, for Sgt McCabe, said Sgt McCabe, in 2007, wasn’t given the real reasons for the DPP’s directions that there be no prosecution against Sgt McCabe.
Instead, Mr McDowell said, Sgt McCabe was told there was no prosecution due to “insufficient evidence”.
Indeed, Supt Cunningham told the tribunal:
“I told him [Sgt McCabe] there was no prosecution, I believe it was due to lack of evidence, I didn’t actually take a note of it…”
At the time Supt Cunningham told Sgt McCabe this – in 2007 – Sgt McCabe already knew the DPP’s full instructions because the Cavan State Solicitor Rory Hayden, on April 5, 2007, read out the instructions to him.
Sgt McCabe kept his knowledge of the directions to himself, the tribunal heard.
In addition, the former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan’s private secretary Frank Walsh also referred to there being “insufficient evidence” against Sgt McCabe when he gave evidence to the tribunal.
But the term “insufficient evidence” does not appear in the DPP’s directions.
Mr O’Toole also told the tribunal that, as far as he could 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 – 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…”
When Mr O’Toole was giving evidence, it was put to him, 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 was to make a short statement to that effect.
However, the tribunal never heard 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 claimed the Ms D issue was “dead” for him – once he learned of the DPP’s directions – that that was 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 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 he had 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 was referring to a piece in The Sunday Times by Justine McCarthy from February 2017.
When Noel Whelan BL, for An Garda Síochána, 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.”
However, 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 – around the time other journalists were contacting him about Ms D’s allegation.
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.
Last Friday in the High Court, Cian Ferriter SC, for The Irish Times, read out an apology to Sgt Maurice McCabe for an article written by Conor Lally – about Sgt McCabe and Ms D – which was published on February 20, 2017.
The apology included the lines:
“The Director of Public Prosecutions determined, after a careful and professional investigation, that no offence of any kind had been disclosed against Sgt McCabe and that there was no basis in fact or law for any prosecution.
“Contrary to what was suggested in the articles, the Director of Public Prosecutions did not base his direction on “insufficient evidence”.
Tomorrow: Maurice McCabe And The Irish Mirror
Previously: Maurice McCabe And The Irish Sun
Maurice McCabe And The Irish Examiner: Part 2
Maurice McCabe And The irish Examiner: Part 1
Maurice McCabe And The Mail Newspapers
Maurice McCabe And INM: Part 2
Maurice McCabe And INM: Part 1
Maurice McCabe And RTÉ
Maurice McCabe And The Irish Times
Maurice McCabe And The Irish Times: Part 2
Maurice McCabe And The Sunday Times