Gemma O’Doherty at Dublin Castle last week
Last week, at the Disclosures Tribunal which is examining allegations of a smear campaign against Sgt Maurice McCabe, former Irish Independent journalist Gemma O’Doherty gave evidence before Supreme Court judge Peter Charleton.
She told the tribunal that, in 2012, she was contacted by Sgt McCabe’s father who told her about Sgt McCabe’s efforts to highlight his concerns about An Garda Síochána.
By way of background, Ms O’Doherty explained that, two years before Sgt McCabe’s father got in contact with her, she had been writing about the death of Fr Niall Molloy who was murdered in 1985 in Offaly.
On foot of her work on that story, the murder case was reopened by the gardaí and, she told the tribunal, it was described in the Oireachtas as the biggest cover-up in the history of the State.
Ms O’Doherty then explained after being in contact with Sgt McCabe’s father, she then made contact with Sgt McCabe and with former Garda John Wilson.
Ms O’Doherty reported in the Irish Independent on April 19, 2013, that the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had penalty points wiped – after she came into possession of the PULSE document.
The tribunal has heard several times that Sgt McCabe was not the source for this document.
In order to verify that the ‘Martin Callinan’ named on the PULSE document was the then Garda Commissioner, Ms O’Doherty called to the address on the document to verify that this was his address on the evening of Thursday, April 11, 2013.
She said she called the house, a woman whom Ms O’Doherty believes was Ms Callinan’s wife answered, and after the woman confirmed the address was that of the Garda Commissioner, Ms O’Doherty got back into her taxi and left – but not before she told the woman who she was.
Later that evening, Ms O’Doherty got a phone call from Head of News at INM Ian Mallon.
Ms O’Doherty said:
“I received a phone call from Ian Mallon, who was in a very serious temper. He alleged a number of things during that phone call; one, that I had been harassing the Commissioner.
“He told me that RTE would be in contact with me. He alleged that I had ruined everything. I subsequently believe that that was a reference to the Anglo tapes and their distribution by INM.
“And he was extremely angry on behalf of Martin Callinan. I had never in my entire career at INM been spoken to like this. I had only ever received praise from management for the work that I was doing, and I was utterly taken aback at the way I was being spoken to.”
“I felt that I was being completely ostracised. I was very keen to get my story published. There didn’t seem to be any urgency in that regard. I was told that I would have to have a debrief, a debrief by management.
“That was a term that I had never heard within the newspaper industry in the years that I had worked there. And I was severely reprimanded. And there didn’t seem to be any — I mean, I think in a normal newspaper for journalists who have a story like that which would bring, you know — which would have raised serious questions about the integrity of the chief of police, that would normally receive, you know, praise. I was basically ostracised, I felt I was being ostracised.”
“Over the course of the following days I was called a rogue reporter, I was described as being cack-handed, I was told that the Commissioner was extremely angry and that the Commissioner had thought I was a renegade republican calling to his door, despite the fact that there was no security presence at his home, which surprised me.
“And I was also informed that a number of executives had been called to Garda Headquarters to explain how it had could to pass that this story had emerged.
“It is my belief that my visit to Martin Callinan’s home had nothing really to do with his anger; it was more to do with the fact that I had uncovered a story about him, about which serious questions remain and have not been answered by neither him or the Minister for Justice, and these questions are in the public interest.”
The tribunal saw correspondence Ms O’Doherty had with several people within INM after her visit to Mr Callinan’s house.
She received the following from Editor in Chief at INM at the time Stephen Rae just after noon on Friday, April 12, 2013:
“Gemma, thanks for your note below. I do, however, need to set out a number of clear guidelines. All news stories that any journalist is working on require to be coordinated with the news executive or senior manager.
“Where approaches are made to individuals, particularly doorsteps, they must also be cleared/coordinated with the news desk. Moreover, where a reporter is approaching a prominent official it’s even more of a priority to coordinate and clear with the news desk. Irrespective of the merits of a story, I cannot have journalists operating outside the accepted news management chain.
“As you all know, we’re all motivated journalists who delight in generating exclusive stories. Nonetheless, we all have to operate within the news structure that is in place and that means operating to the news desk or the editor. I’ve no problem with holding prominent people to account, but that clearly has to be done within the guidelines outlined above. I hope this clarifies the matter.
“I also believe that a debrief with the operations editor and managing editor is in order in this case.”
In response, Ms O’Doherty wrote:
“Thanks very much Stephen. The only reason I went to the house was to confirm the address so I had my information correct before I started discussing the story publicly and blaming anybody in the wrong. My error. The story only came to me at about 7 p.m. and I felt it urgent to pursue it before other media got it.
“Unfortunately, Ian, Peter and Cormac were at the advertising evening and I didn’t want to disturb them, so I took it on my own bat to see if this sensational story stood up. I absolutely note your comments below and may thanks for informing me of same. I contact prominent people all the time about potential exclusives that may or may not stand up, but don’t like to be pestering you guys every time I do.
“The protocol has not been brought to my attention until now, I was not aware of it. I am now, so many thanks and obviously I will take it on board in future. I stress again I behaved with impeccable manners and professionalism at all times during the 20 or 30 second encounter. Would it be okay to send on those questions now? I’m anxious the story is going to break elsewhere. It’s becoming known that the Indo have it. I have a few more good lines on it too. Sorry again for any hassle caused to you, that was never my intention.”
The tribunal has already heard evidence from the former Head of the Garda Press Office Supt Dave Taylor who said, after Ms O’Doherty called to Mr Callinan’s home, he was furious.
Supt Taylor explained Mr Callinan wasn’t in Ireland that evening but the then Garda Commissioner rang Supt Taylor and told him he was furious. Supt Taylor said Mr Callinan subsequently told Supt Taylor to convey his anger to INM.
A meeting was subsequently held at the offices of the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation on Harcourt Street in Dublin between the then Assistant Commissioner John Twomey, Supt Taylor, the managing director of INM at the time Michael Denieffe and another individual.
Supt Taylor was asked if Tom Brady, the then crime and security correspondent for the Irish Independent , was the other individual at this meeting but he said he wasn’t and that the only other person who was there was a woman from INM.
The tribunal has yet to hear the identity of this woman.
Supt Taylor also told the tribunal that this was the first and only meeting of its kind during his time as the head of the Garda Press Office.
Ms O’Doherty told the tribunal that the story which was eventually published in the Irish Independent was not the story she would have published.
She explained she was instructed to only deal with Supt Taylor about the story and she was “ordered not to speak to anybody else about it”.
Ms O’Doherty said numerous questions which she asked of Supt Taylor about the termination of Mr Callinan’s points went unanswered.
“Rumours continue to this day about allegations regarding the incident itself and whether Martin Callinan was actually driving the car that had the penalty points terminated from at the time or whether somebody else was driving that car.
“There were many aspects of the termination that didn’t make sense. Martin Callinan was Deputy Commissioner at the time. He claims he was going to meet a source. I have asked to see the records for that. For some reason, he chose to drive his family car to this meeting. He would have had a State car at his disposal. And on the Pulse document, where the detail is given in relation to the termination, there’s no explanation for the termination.”
Ms O’Doherty then explained to the tribunal that, some days after her story was published, she was told she was being made compulsorily redundant and she believes it was as a consequence of her support for Sgt McCabe.
Mr Fanning SC, for INM, told the tribunal that the publication of the story about Mr Callinan’s penalty points and her emails back and forth with Mr Rae and other INM editors belies the idea that INM came down on Ms O’Doherty “like a tonne of bricks”.
Ms O’Doherty replied:
“All that is clear is that I was unlawfully dismissed from my post of 16 years within a matter of weeks after that. And the High Court has read into the record a significant apology (see below) from INM and I received substantial compensation for the loss of my job.”
INM apology to Gemma O’Doherty
Independent Newspapers wish to acknowledge the exceptional work of multi-award winning investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty for the Irish Independent during the course of a lengthy career. Independent Newspapers accept that Gemma O’Doherty has acted at all times in a professional and diligent manner and in the best interests of Independent Newspapers.
Independent Newspapers unreservedly apologise to Ms O’Doherty for the stress and hardship caused to her and her husband as a result of its actions. Independent Newspapers have agreed to pay Ms O’Doherty undisclosed damages and to indemnify her in relation to her legal costs.
Mr Fanning put to Ms O’Doherty:
“It’s a matter of public record that INM has heavily indebted in 2013, that it sold its South African business to pay down debt, it raised money from its existing shareholders and it formed a cost-cutting plan for a redundancy programme which was announced in a circular to all staff by the then Chief Executive of Independent News and Media, Vincent Crowley, on 26th April 2013. That’s a matter of public record, it was a publicly quoted company and this was reported on at the time. So it was a round of redundancies that was publicly announced on 26th April 2013.
“And ultimately, my instructions are that there were 43 job losses in INM, 29 of which were editorial and six of which were initially non-voluntarily, but alone of the 43, you were the only person affected who did not reach an amicable agreement and you challenged the redundancy as an unfair dismissal.”
Mr Fanning added:
“You have told the Tribunal today and in your statement that you were the only journalist to suffer such a fate and I want to suggest to you that that’s demonstrably untrue.”
Ms O’Doherty said:
“Well, all I know is that my relationship with management prior to me taking up the story about Martin Callinan was excellent, I was spoken to in glowing terms consistently by management. So why they would come along and make me the only person compulsorily redundant makes absolutely no sense. And I go back to the High Court apology issued to me by INM.”
She also said:
“The then-CEO, during – in the aftermath of me being told that I was to lose my job, approached me and said that there had been a change of heart when they saw that I wasn’t going to go quietly and he put it to me that if I was willing to give up the stories and the work that I was doing on Garda malfeasance and focus on other less controversial work that I would be invited back to the company. And I declined.”
Mr Fanning asks Ms O’Doherty if she has “an adverse professional view of Mr [Paul] Williams”.
Ms O’Doherty said: “I wouldn’t have the healthiest professional view of Mr Williams, no.”
Asked if she’s described his as “a Garda puppet, a Garda hack, as a purveyor of depraved work and have you called for a boycott of INM simply for employing Mr. Williams in various tweets?”
Ms O’Doherty said she would agree with that and she believes Mr Williams “does a great disservice to Irish journalism and to the public interest in his work”.
Mr Fanning argued:
“I would put it to you that the wild and baseless rumour that you saw fit to propagate about Mr Williams having access to the Garda file was based upon your animosity towards Mr Williams and not based on any factual underpinning”.
Ms O’Doherty responded:
“I don’t bear any personal animosity towards Mr Williams. I believe he does a great disservice to my profession and to himself in the stories that he often puts out in relation to the gardaí.”
Mr Fanning said Mr Williams will disagree with her claims when he returns to the tribunal to give evidence.
When Mícheál Ó Higgins SC, for An Garda Síochána, cross-examined Ms O’Doherty he raised an article she wrote for The Sunday Times about the names of Traveller children being placed on PULSE and a Facebook post which, the tribunal subsequently learned was an item in which she was “tagged”.
In relation to a GSOC investigation which occurred on foot of the Sunday Times’ article, Ms O’Doherty said:
“I was not willing to cooperate with a GSOC investigation which was being carried out by a senior member of An Garda Síochána, because I don’t believe that the Gardaí should be allowed to investigate the Gardaí.”
The tribunal saw a report by Chief Superintendent John McPolin which was sent to the tribunal in November 2017 in which he said:
“On 22nd July 2014 I was appointed as deciding officer by the then divisional officer, Chief Superintendent M.A. Finn, Cork City Division, in a supervised investigation under SECTION 94(5) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 in respect of a complaint from Mrs. J made at the Dublin office of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission on 28th March 2014 on behalf of her two children.
“The complaint primarily concerned the allegation that information relating to her children was recorded on Pulse and that she had been provided with proof of such by a member of the public, whom she subsequently identified as being independent journalist Ms. Gemma O’Doherty.
“I established that Ms. Gemma O’Doherty, freelance journalist, provided complainant Mrs. J with copies of this Pulse material, which was confirmed by Mrs. J in her written statement of complaint. Ms. O’Doherty declined to cooperate with my investigation, but did confirm to me during a telephone conversation that she’d obtained the Pulse screenshots and relevant information from Mr. John McGuinness TD and then Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. It is believed that Sergeant McCabe provided this information to Mr. McGuinness.
“This material was provided by Gemma O’Doherty to Mrs. J on 22nd March 2014 and was subject matter of The Sunday Times newspaper article penned by Ms. O’Doherty on 23rd March 2014.”
When asked to confirm she had spoken to CS McPolin and if she confirmed to him that she’d obtained the relevant PULSE document from Mr McGuinness, Ms O’Doherty said she was claiming privilege.
After some back and forth about privilege, Judge Charleton asked Mr O’Higgins SC, for the gardai, what was the point of the question and he indicated there was no point in having a “big row” about privilege in regards to something trivial.
Mr O’Higgins told the judge that when Mr McGuinness gave evidence to the tribunal, he told the judge he wasn’t the source for this information.
Judge Charleton said: “Well, fine, he denied it. What’s it got to do with me and the terms of reference and whether senior members of the Garda Síochána were briefing Maurice McCabe negatively or not?”
Mr O’Higgins said: “I’d respectfully suggest that if, on foot of an answer this witness properly gives, you were to form the view that, for instance, the answer that had been given previously by Deputy McGuinness was incorrect or, for instance, untruthful, I think that would be a relevant matter and that would be a legitimate matter to pursue.”
After further debate, Judge Charleton said: “I’m just not interested. I’d rather deal with what we’re actually trying to deal with here.”
Mr O’Higgins then moved on to Ms O’Doherty’s use of social media. He put to her that she is “quite a prodigious user of Twitter”
Ms O’Doherty confirmed that, since losing her job at INM, she uses Twitter to get what she believes is important information out to the public.
Asked if she uses Twitter to criticise Mr Callinan, Ms O’Doherty said: “Oh yes.”
Moving on to her use of Facebook, Mr O’Higgins asked Ms O’Doherty if she, on March 24 of this year, shared a post on her own Facebook page which made certain claims about Supt Taylor, former Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and her husband Chief Supt Jim McGowan.
The post was read out to the tribunal and it claimed Supt Taylor’s phones were wiped clean or lost by Garda HQ and that Ms O’Sullivan and her husband “are guilty of corruption, tampering and spoilation of evidence and professional misconduct at the very least, and this will be proven to be the case in the very near future”.
There was much discussion about this post and whether Ms O’Doherty shared it on her Facebook page or not – to the point a laptop was given up to the judge to look at the post.
Ms O’Doherty said she’d be surprised if she shared the post on her Facebook as she doesn’t share items as a rule.
Mark Harty SC, for Ms O’Doherty, pointed out:
“Sorry, Chairman, I wonder if I could interrupt at this stage? There is also a facility by which somebody can tag somebody on Facebook to an article that they have placed up and that can therefore be linked back to that person’s page.”
At one point, Judge Charleton said the tribunal was making as much progress as a snail travelling between Cork and Dublin and pressed Mr O’Higgins to move on.
Mr O’Higgins put to Ms O’Doherty:
“He [Supt Taylor] has now withdrawn a number of the allegations that are contained here. And I’m not saying that he made all of the allegations that are contained here, but he certainly made some of them. And they’re now withdrawn, all right? So, armed with that information, can I ask you do you think it is unfair to Nóirín O’Sullivan and her husband for this sort of allegation to be circulated widely?”
Ms O’Doherty responded:
“Well, I’m not going to speak about her husband. But certainly any dealings that I had with Nóirín O’Sullivan were always negative. She certainly presided over scandal after scandal within the force and I’m afraid that if there is a lot of public disapproval of her, she has brought it all upon herself.”
Judge Charleton then pointed out to Mr O’Higgins that Ms O’Doherty hasn’t made any allegations to the tribunal about Ms O’Sullivan.
Ms O’Doherty has told the tribunal that, at some point in 2013, she heard from former Garda John Wilson that he had heard that Irish Mail on Sunday journalist Debbie McCann had claimed Sgt McCabe was a child abuser and had called him a “paedo”.
Ms O’Doherty said she didn’t believe the rumours from the beginning and said:
“When I heard these scurrilous rumours, I pretty much dismissed them. I knew that, you know, people who took on the Gardaí – I myself had been a victim of it in the Molloy case – were blackened, their names would be blackened and things would be said about them.”
She also told the tribunal – in her statement to the tribunal – that she believed the Garda file concerning the Ms D allegations had been given to Irish Independent journalist Paul Williams by senior gardai in Garda HQ.
When asked about this claim, Ms O’Doherty said:
“I think it’s well known in journalistic circles that Mr. Williams gets the bulk of his material from Garda Headquarters, his Garda sources. His boss at the time, Stephen Rae, my former editor, had been editor of the Garda Review and he himself actually had been in possession of the Fr Molloy file, the Garda file, so..
“… and they also came into possession of the Anglo tapes in or around this timeframe, and it’s quite astonishing that they would have gone ahead and published those tapes, which I believe they were found in contempt of court for publishing without the permission of An Garda Síochána, because obviously that — the publication of those tapes could have severely damaged one of the most important trials in the history of the State.”
Rossa Fanning SC, for the Irish Independent, interjected as Ms O’Doherty was saying this and told Judge Charleton that he believed the evidence being given went “beyond” anything the tribunal is seeking to investigate.
After some to-ing and fro-ing, Mr Charleton then said to Ms O’Doherty:
“…do you have any evidence that he [Paul Williams] was given the file? Now, there’s a problem, because if you actually read the file, and I have read the file, it’s a scrupulous file and it’s not favourable to any notion that there ever was an assault. That’s what the file says. So in having the file is not actually going to help an anti-McCabe case.”
Ms O’Doherty said:
“I cannot state that he was handed a hard copy of the file, despite the fact that I was aware that hard copies of Garda files were in possession of INM management. But it certainly is my understanding that information was provided to him in relation to Ms. D by An Garda Síochána. That is my belief.”
The tribunal heard that Mr Williams has told the tribunal that he doesn’t know Ms O’Doherty and he believes she has an axe to grind with INM.
But Ms O’Doherty said he does know her as they have spoken to each other.
“Mr Williams, I will strongly claim, knew exactly who I was. I was the chief features writer in the Irish Independent at a time when he had been brought back in by Stephen Rae. I spoke to him on a number of occasions in relation to my Fr Molloy investigation because he himself in some of his writing had written about the Fr Molloy case and had written about a Garda deal that had been done with Martin Cahill and John Traynor, the well-known criminals, in relation to the stolen Fr Molloy file, and Mr Williams had alleged that charges had been dropped against one of these two individuals in exchange for the stolen file. I spoke to Paul Williams about that on a number of occasions and I also remember texting him.”
Ms O’Doherty also told the tribunal that, she did her own background research on Ms D and her father.
She said she was “really deeply concerned” about what she had learned and felt “this was clearly a vendetta against Sergeant McCabe, and I believe that Ms D is being used to this effect, and has been used”.
Judge Charleton stepped in to say, while Ms O’Doherty is entitled to her opinion, he is “bound by certain standards” and the fundamental standard he’s bound by is that he is to investigate what he’s told to investigate.
The judge added:
“…the situation is that I would have to ask the D family to come back and to consider those matters, but I don’t actually have jurisdiction to do that and I think there comes a point in life where enough is enough and you leave things behind.
“So I’m interested in what you have to say in relation to what I am obliged to inquire into, which is where did these stories come from, how did they spread and who was putting them around. But, you know, the other stuff, in particular in relation to people who, whether they were right or whether they were wrong, have actually not been through the most pleasant of times, should just be left aside.”
Mr O’Higgins also raised the email Ms O’Doherty sent to Mr Rae in which she said “My error”.
When asked about this, Ms O’Doherty said:
“I don’t believe I committed any error. I was saving the company from a massive libel if I’d got my information wrong. At the time I had been spoken to in outrageous terms and, you know, following my visit to Martin Callinan’s house I had been treated despicably. I know that I was probably very anxious when I wrote that e-mail, because I had never been treated that way before by senior management in INM.”
Mr O’Higgins moved on again and accused Ms O’Doherty of wanting to be “centre stage” at the tribunal.
He said: “Would it be fair to say you were anxious to make yourself relevant to this Tribunal and to, if you’ll forgive this reasonably strong language, to insert yourself into the whole narrative of the Tribunal?”
Ms O’Doherty responded:
“I believe it is hugely relevant when a journalist is silenced in the course of her work by a police Commissioner when she is holding him to account.”
“I certainly did not want to be centre stage, that was not my intention at all. My desire was for the facts to be presented as they were connected to me before the Tribunal. I know that justice Charleton has requested that journalists come forward if they have information that may assist the Tribunal and that is what I have done.”
Mr O’Higgins also raised the following claim made by Ms O’Doherty to the tribunal in her statement to the tribunal.
It said: “The Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan launched a book of his [Paul Williams] and they appear to have had a close relationship. It’s my understanding that the same firm of solicitors represents Paul Williams, INM and the woman who was purportedly behind the allegations of sexual abuse concerning Sergeant McCabe.”
In relation to the book launch, Ms O’Doherty explained that she corrected that claim – that Ms O’Sullivan attended the launch as opposed to launching the book. Mr O’Higgins asked Ms O’Doherty if she accepted this was an error.
“I don’t think it is a particular error. I mean, she was part of the launch of his book. There were photographs distributed fairly widely of the two of them together at the launch. So technically was she the person who launched his book? No. And I made the Tribunal aware of that.”
Mr O’Higgins said Nóirín O’Sullivan was the subject of considerable criticism by Paul Williams on Newstalk radio.
Ms O’Doherty said: “I’m not in a position to go into that. I don’t really have an awful lot of time for Paul Williams’ journalism.”
Under further cross-examination from Mr O’Higgins, Ms O’Doherty repeated: “It is also my belief, as I stated yesterday, that the new INM management under Stephen Rae seemed to be in possession of Garda files. Because Stephen Rae was in possession of the Garda file pertaining to the Father Niall Molloy murder.”
Ms O’Doherty further stated that it’s her belief that the alleged smear campaign against Sgt McCabe intensified after she wrote about Mr Callinan’s penalty points being wiped.
“I believe that in the weeks following my exposé on Martin Callinan’s points being wiped the Ms. D allegations emerged. I believe that the Tusla file was created in August of 2013. But going back even closer to that, I know that my former colleague Anne Harris yesterday testified to the fact that the information that she heard in relation to the allegations against Maurice started to emerge as early as May of 2013. We also know that ‘Operation Squeeze’ apparently was launched shortly after my story. This was the catalogue of bad news stories which Garda Headquarters seemed to be digging up against Sergeant McCabe. Then, not long afterwards, in January 2014 we had the “disgusting” comment from Martin Callinan, which was a clear expression of his real views towards Garda Wilson and Sergeant McCabe. So I’m not in any doubt about the fact that the campaign against Sergeant McCabe intensified after my story was published.”
Mr O’Higgins argued that Ms O’Doherty has no evidence on which to base her claim. He claimed the above was indicative of a pattern of Ms O’Doherty making “baseless and wild allegations, perhaps to catch a populist wave, when it suits”.
Ms O’Doherty repeated:
“I repeat that the Tusla file was created in August 2013. The Ms. D allegations emerged at that point, very shortly after my story about Martin Callinan. I’m not in any doubt about any of this. And I’m also not in any doubt that Paul Williams, who facilitated this smear campaign, was another person who personally gained from the abuse of our — the penalty points system, in that he had a number of penalty points wiped from his licence. And he was the facilitator in relation to putting stories about Ms. D into the public domain.”
Mr Harty SC, for Ms O’Doherty, put to Ms O’Doherty a claim made by Mr Williams to the tribunal last summer.
Mr Williams said:
“In terms of the wider picture, an allegation, a narrative started about ten years ago in this business between certain politicians, criminals, subversives, there is a whole group of them, not altogether in uniform, but all separately where a narrative was created that all crime journalists are in the pockets of the guards.”
Ms O’Doherty confirmed to the tribunal that she is neither a politician, a criminal or a subversive.
Mr Williams is scheduled to return to give evidence to the tribunal on Friday.
Earlier: I Told INM Maurice McCabe Was Innocent
Previously: Gemma O’Doherty on Broadsheet