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The things they said

How Peter Charleton found the fact among the rumour, gossip, lies and deceit

An analysis of how Peter Charleton came to believe some more than others.
THUS, THERE WAS independent evidence apart from the testimony of Superintendent David Taylor which proved this campaign.

PETER CHARLETON HAS literally written a book about lying but on publishing his report from the Disclosures Tribunal today, he notes “it has been a dreadful struggle to attempt to uncover what may have gone on behind closed doors”.

Over 102 days of testimony, the judge heard different versions of the same events. It was his job to filter the probable from the impossible in the full knowledge that the task itself verged into the latter. 

“… Every judge is aware that leaping to conclusions is inappropriate,” Charleton writes early in the report. “A decision against a person is a blow to that individual and may only be made if it is supported. Where a range of explanations as to why someone did something is available, then it is the duty of a judge to take the mildest probable elucidation that the nature of the facts allows.

“That process, of course, must take the entirety of all the relevant facts into account. When stating facts, facts need to be stated as facts, but when it comes to inferences from facts, then caution is required in pursuit of a measured elucidation.” 

It is notable then that he is later unequivocal in his statement that the tribunal is “convinced” there was a “campaign of calumny” against Sergeant Maurice McCabe and that it was orchestrated by former Commissioner Martin Callinan with the aid of his right-hand man Superintendent David Taylor. 

He is not slow to deem what versions of events are the factual ones. 

He does this despite finding Taylor’s credibility to be “completely undermined by his own bitterness”. The job of the tribunal, he says, was to see if there was independent evidence proving something of the former press officer’s case anyway. 

His starting point? “All the negative things said directly” and “all of the rumours which floated around” about McCabe for the best part of a decade. He was sure there was “calumny and gossip” but the missing detail was where they had come from. He had to figure that out. 

On page 280, he warns readers they will “no doubt be horrified” by the section (page 249) which summarises those ‘negative things and floating rumours’. 

Before he gets to that though, he has an anecdote – about sin, no less. A man asks a priest to hear his confession, it goes. His penance for gossiping is to release feathers from a pillow into the wind from a high tower and return a week later. Of course, he is then told to go and pick up each and every feather. 

It’s a story that Charleton is obviously fond of. And one he wants Callinan, Taylor and anyone who is in public service (in which he includes journalists) to take note of. 

PastedImage-74394 The witnesses

Much of what he has dealt with in the report relates to rumour and gossip. Dirty words he uses often, along with lies and deceit, but some of them helped him come to his conclusions.

The first feather he found in Cavan where McCabe had become to be seen – if only by a minority – as a pariah heedlessly causing trouble. “Consequently, rumours grew out from the garda community and reached political and journalistic circles,” Charleton explains. 

“Evidence of rumour was given to the tribunal by Micheál Martin TD, leader of Fianna Fáil: the Republican Party, Pat Rabbitte TD, then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and Eoghan Murphy TD as to what they had heard about Maurice McCabe,” he makes clear in today’s report. “None of what they heard was complimentary to him.”

During the tribunal’s hearings, Martin said he was “aware of general comment” and there being “a lot of rumour about the place”. There was also a non-specific thing about child abuse, he said. His press officer received many queries about whether he could stand over McCabe’s credibility. 

Pat Rabbitte had spoken to his driver (a former detective) about the whole affair. While he wasn’t propagating the rumour, he did tell the minister about what was said about McCabe in garda circles, Charleton decided. 

By his own admission, the judge has to see these how they were presented – as “merely rumours”, and ones the recipients did not take too seriously or to heart. But he finds compelling testimony – with common features – in that given by Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness, Fine Gael’s John Deasy, the Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy and RTÉ’s Philip Boucher-Hayes. They, in themselves, are that “independent evidence” that he had been searching for and it was that of Boucher-Hayes which he found the “most telling”.  

The radio and TV presenter and reporter gave evidence about an incident that occurred on 17 December 2013, just as pressure on various policing issues was building. 

The Commissioner was due to make his annual appearance on Crimecall and the usual ‘watch out huns’ Christmas edition wasn’t going to cut it when the gardaí were making news by themselves with the penalty points scandal. What ensued was a robust debate between the broadcaster and garda HQ which was not concluded by the time Callinan reached Montrose. 

Boucher-Hayes had one more crack at making a programme with “real and currently relevant content”. 

“Thus, there was an encounter in a corridor between Philip Boucher-Hayes and the Garda Commissioner,” Charleton writes in his report.

There is no sense of voices being raised but there is a mood of frustration apparent on both sides.

“Commissioner Callinan began by requesting that he and the journalist ‘speak off the record’. Greatly to his credit, Philip Boucher-Hayes said nothing. He took the view that conversations were conversations and that he had to specifically agree to Commissioner Callinan being a confidential source before he would be bound by the ethic of journalistic privilege. That was the right thing to do. Especially so, as what happened was an attempt to undermine the character of a serving sergeant, Maurice McCabe, in a way that, because of its deceit, could never be in the public interest to conceal.”

On McCabe, Boucher-Hayes told the tribunal that Callinan said, “This man has issues, he has some well-known grievances, well-known within An Garda Síochána and there’s all kinds of issues there, Philip, that I can’t talk to you about; there are psychological, psychiatric issues with this man and there’s more that I could tell you, but I won’t, there’s an awful lot worse that I could tell you, the worst possible kind of things, but we’ll just leave it there.” 

Boucher-Hayes said these words, even though he didn’t believe them, brought to his mind “an allegation of child sexual abuse or rape perhaps”. He also said that Callinan told him he could speak further to Taylor on these issues if he so wished. The press officer, afterwards, asked him if he understood “the issue with Maurice McCabe”.

Both Taylor and Callinan gave competing versions (even when compared to each other) of the evening and Charleton dismisses them out of hand, stating that the tribunal finds “as a fact” that Boucher-Hayes is telling the truth. The journalist, he says, was not “prepared to be used” by Callinan – or, indeed, Taylor. 

The account of the night’s events offered Charleton what he describes as “confirmation in a material respect of the existence of a plan of campaign” and “evidence of coordination of effort” between the pair. 

In reality, Commissioner Callinan uttered negative comments about Maurice McCabe and his press officer weighed in immediately after that exchange ended with a statement that confirms that he was aware of the strategy of his boss.”

Taken by itself, Charleton found this evidence enough to proclaim that Callinan “was not alone in his attempts to denigrate the character of Maurice McCabe”.

“They were acting together,” he says definitively – but it was not the only evidence available to lead him to such conclusions. 

“The conversations as described by John McGuinness TD took place,” he had written just pages earlier. 

These conversations have been widely dissected in the media – and at the tribunal itself. They took place after a volatile PAC meeting and in a hotel car park under the dark night. 

Again, there were rival accounts. Again, Charleton ruled against Callinan. 

There was not ‘even a hint of animus’ by McGuinness against Callinan so it is “difficult to imagine why [he] would be so malicious as to pervert the details of their conversation”, the judge says. 

Therefore, McGuinness’s testimony turns to evidence. The former head of the PAC said Callinan suggested to him that McCabe “had sexually abused his family and an individual, that he was not to be trusted, that I had made a grave error in relation to the Public Accounts Committee and the hearings because of this and that I would find myself in serious trouble”.

…I said we all know what goes on in relation to these matters and that they were just in fact rumours. And he said to me, no, that there was a file there and that action would be taken against Sergeant Maurice McCabe. He gave me the impression that that would be the case and that I had, as I have said, made a grave error and that, you know, because of all of this he was not reliable and therefore the Public Accounts Committee would find itself and me in serious trouble. 

Throughout the report, Charleton holds a special place for those who have “public spirit”. Boucher-Hayes is one, and Séamus McCarthy another. He is the State’s Comptroller and Auditor General and was a witness in front of the PAC on 23 January 2014. He recalls a conversation with Callinan that day: 

We began just with sort of normal greetings and — but very quickly the Commissioner raised Sergeant McCabe’s name in the conversation, along the lines that Sergeant McCabe is not to be trusted, that he had questions to answer and that there were sexual offence allegations against him… I was surprised, certainly. 

Note the word allegation is used in the plural. Note also the C&AG was told there were current investigations, as McGuinness had been. These are facts that Charleton explicitly references before praising McCarthy and characterising him as someone with “nothing to gain and nothing to lose” whose evidence was “coherent and convincing”. 

There is not the slightest hint of any ill-motivation. While the cross-examination on behalf of Commissioner Martin Callinan was skilled, the truthfulness of Séamus McCarthy as a witness remained untouched. The tribunal concludes that the conversation with Commissioner Martin Callinan as described by Séamus McCarthy is accurate.

There was to be a fourth witness for Charleton born from those PAC hearings and RTÉ. 

On Primetime on 14 February 2017, Waterford TD and PAC member John Deasy said: 

“Before the PAC meeting on 23 January 2014, I was approached by a very senior guard and he proceeded to make some very derogatory comments about Maurice McCabe, the nature of which were, you know, Maurice McCabe couldn’t be believed and couldn’t be trusted on anything. They were very, very derogatory. It was, you know, a serious attack and very strongly worded. Maurice McCabe was in the Public Accounts Committee the following Thursday and I thought that he was credible and I made that judgment.” 

He later told the tribunal that the “very senior guard” was, in fact, Martin Callinan. According to the deputy, he did not refer to sexual abuse allegations during the conversation. That was a point Charleton uses to explain away the former Commissioner’s attempt to portray the testimony of Deasy, McGuinness and McCarthy as an example of collusion. “There is no hint of this,” he says. 

Instead, taken together, the four men’s experiences  – along with those floating rumours – point to a “plan” by Callinan and Taylor to ‘nod and wink and reference that historical sexual abuse claim’.

The conversations with Deasy, McCarthy and McGuinness show that Callinan spoke of McCabe in the “most derogatory way”, proving the campaign existed, concludes Charleton. And the debacle before Crimecall shows the press officer and Commissioner “were working together”. 

Charleton believes that evidence must be scrutinised individually and collectively “with a view to sounding out its probable relationship with the truth”. He tells his readers the theory behind this belief. Succinctly: to separate gossip and rumour from evidence and truth, he said the tribunal kept one thing always in mind – that its job was to be “sensible and shrewd”. 

“Putting matters to rights is… harder,” however, he adds in an afterword, laying even more difficult questions and challenges in front of us – the Irish public. 

“What should not be doubted is that the life of a nation is best founded on all of its citizens doing what they can; and always trying to do the best that they can. While easily to be denigrated in comparison to more overt public gestures or pompous rhetoric, there is nothing more important than all of us fulfilling our duty as citizens through diligent work,” he writes. 

“What has been unnerving about more than 100 days of hearings in this tribunal is that a person who stood up for better standards in our national police force, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and who exemplified hard work in his own calling, was repulsively denigrated for being no more than a good citizen and police officer.

“In investigating the calumny against him, other aspects of our national life have been laid bare. Within the pages of this report are detailed those women and men who have done their work well and who try every day, as police officers, social workers and administrators, to do their best. But not all.

“Not every person seeks either to uphold the highest standards or to strive for them through daily work. The question has to be asked as to why what is best, what demands hard work, is not the calling of every single person who takes on the job of service to Ireland. Worse still is the question of how it is that decent people, of whom Maurice McCabe emerges as a paradigm, are so shamefully treated when rightly they demand that we do better.”

Those are questions not even the most learned Justice of the Supreme Court can answer. Can you?


The compilation of all negative reporting or commenting

As mentioned above, the Disclosures Tribunal report contains a section which sets out – in chronological form and insofar as is possible – all the negative statements which were given in evidence about Maurice McCabe. reproduces a condensed version here. 


Ms D accused Maurice McCabe of child sexual abuse, a matter that was supposed to have occurred in or around 1998. This statement was known to several gardaí who were tasked with investigating it in the Cavan/Monaghan area. It was also known to social workers. It is likely that both groups kept very quiet. Certainly, an indication of this is that Inspector Cunningham kept the file in a safe in his office and the matter was, correctly, not put up on the PULSE system by Detective Sergeant Fraher. With the incidents reported by Maurice McCabe in October 2007, in a courthouse and in the street, knowledge is likely to have spread further.


Within the D household in 2007, there was talk, according to Mr D, from an officer who had retired that another accusation had been made against Maurice McCabe by a different girl. This was to in some way relate to another town in Monaghan. There was not the slightest evidence of this. There was also some notion within the D family that Maurice McCabe had an unhealthy interest in patrolling near a particular girls’ secondary school. That is not likely to have travelled.

11 March 2009

In 2007, Maurice McCabe made several complaints as to standards of policing in Bailieboro. On 11 March 2009, The Anglo-Celt newspaper published comments attributed to Chief Superintendent Rooney where he stated that he had “total confidence in the guards in Bailieboro”. He further stated, “I recently read reports in the national and local media in relation to policing in Bailieboro and it was absolute rubbish what was in those reports, it was factually incorrect.” 

4 July 2011

Chief Superintendent Rooney circulated a letter to the Assistant Commissioner and to all district officers in Cavan/Monaghan entitled “RE: Allegations made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe, Bailieboro Garda Station”. Chief Superintendent Rooney had met with Assistant Commissioner Byrne on 24 June 2011 regarding the findings of the Byrne/McGinn report into allegations made by Maurice McCabe of inadequacies in investigations in the division. It stated that “no systemic failures … in the management and administration of Bailieboro Garda District” had been identified by that investigation, although there were a “number of minor procedural issues”. It stated that “[t]he findings of the Assistant Commissioner vindicate the high standards and professionalism” at Bailieboro. Chief Superintendent Rooney also congratulated all serving members at Bailieboro and hoped that they could now “put this difficult period behind them”, thanking the sergeant in Bailieboro in particular for “steering the station party through the crisis that had occurred”.


It would appear to be sometime in 2013 when he was instructed to drop in to conversations with journalists that Maurice McCabe had been investigated for a sexual assault against a minor and that although the Director of Public Prosecutions had ruled there should be no case taken, he was embittered and was only making complaints to get revenge on the gardaí. This was to be done on the basis that “there is no smoke without fire”. The dissemination of this, according to Superintendent David Taylor, was to 12 journalists.


Several politicians and many journalists heard that there had been a historic allegation of child sexual abuse, or some kind of sexual offence, against Maurice McCabe. Some were in a position to check the matter out and discovered that the Director of Public Prosecutions had directed that there was no case to answer, or some such explanation. This was widespread. It must be remembered that talk of this reached a crescendo towards the end part of 2013 and through 2014. This gossip about Maurice McCabe is the backdrop to all other specific instances of denigratory talk about Maurice McCabe.

17 December 2013

Philip Boucher-Hayes was told by Commissioner Martin Callinan that Maurice McCabe is a “man [who] has issues, he has some well-known grievances, well-known within An Garda Síochána and there’s all kinds of issues there, Philip, that I can’t talk to you about; there are psychological, psychiatric issues with this man and there’s more that I could tell you, but I won’t, there’s an awful lot worse that I could tell you, the worst possible kind of things, but we’ll just leave it there”. Superintendent David Taylor chimed in at the end of that conversation with a comment about Maurice McCabe and the penalty points issue. The matter is unlikely to have been much discussed outside RTÉ and family.

23 January 2014

Giving evidence to the PAC, Commissioner Martin Callinan referred to the process of gardaí who make a protected disclosure rather than going through official channels as “disgusting”.

In conversation with John Deasy TD, Commissioner Martin Callinan referred to Maurice McCabe as someone who could not be “believed or trusted”. The matter is unlikely to have been much discussed. 

In conversation with Séamus McCarthy, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Commissioner Martin Callinan said of Maurice McCabe that “Sergeant McCabe is not to be trusted, that he had questions to answer and that there were sexual offence allegations against him.” The matter is unlikely to have been much discussed.

In conversation with John McGuinness, Commissioner Martin Callinan is recounted as: “telling me about an incident involving John Wilson, where there was a difficulty in Grafton Street I think it was, the police were called to that, John Wilson was one of the individual Gardaí that attended at that incident, and in the Commissioner’s words, he pulled the k…… off the horse, because it involved horses and individuals, he got on the horse himself, rode it back to the barracks and tied it to the railings of the barracks; and the other fella fiddles with kids; they’re the kind of f……. headbangers I am dealing with”. This incident was not much discussed until later revealed.

24 January 2014

In a car park, Commissioner Martin Callinan told John McGuinness TD “there was issues to do with Maurice McCabe and his behaviour and he suggested that there was — he had sexually abused his family and an individual, that he was not to be trusted, that I had made a grave error in relation to the Public Accounts Committee and the hearings because of this and that I would find myself in serious trouble”.

26 January 2014

Having spoken to Commissioner Martin Callinan, Gerald Kean, a solicitor, speaking on the Marian Finucane radio Sunday morning show said: “I know there’s this question about [the ‘disgusting’ remark], you know, when you put that in context, what [Commissioner Callinan] is saying is that he has always stated and … I only met the man personally once so he is not somebody that I know that well but I know at one function he advocated in no uncertain terms the importance of whistleblowers and the importance of protecting them … when whistleblowers first of all do not cooperate in any way shape or form with the investigation, the investigative committee under Inspector John O’Mahony who is a very respectful man, they didn’t cooperate with that at all. They go in, they breach the Data Protection Act, that’s clear, I mean I think that he is clear and from the information that I have, it looks as if they have breached the Act, which is a criminal offence and then what they do is they spoon feed this information to certain independents in … Dail Eireann …. I don’t believe for one minute that … the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners are going to condone for one moment any illegality that takes place within An Garda Síochána.”

January/February 2014

Cathal McMahon, a journalist with the Irish Daily Mirror, heard of rumours about Maurice McCabe and a sexual assault allegation. With a view to obtaining some information he rang the Garda Press Office. At the other end of the line, Superintendent David Taylor confirmed that there had been an investigation. He suggested to the journalist that “maybe [he] should go to Cavan and find further details there”. His editor, John Kierans, said that the story of Maurice McCabe as a child abuser was proposed by Superintendent David Taylor to two other newspaper editorial rooms. This is likely to have led to a lot of conversation among journalists.

Mid-February 2014

Minister Pat Rabbitte had a conversation with a garda officer who said to him about Maurice McCabe “that he couldn’t be trusted, that his own colleagues believed that he couldn’t be trusted with children”.

Late-February/early-March 2014

Debbie McCann and Eavan Murray, each on separate occasions, called on the D household in order to seek an interview with the woman making the allegation against Maurice McCabe. This interview was refused. There was a view taken by Debbie McCann that the allegation was correct.

Mr D, a serving garda, discussed the allegation of his daughter with Detective Superintendent John O’Reilly. Because he is a family friend, Superintendent O’Reilly had already known of the allegation for some time but this came as a reminder and he assisted Mr D in making contact with journalist Paul Williams.

March 2014

Ms D was interviewed by Paul Williams. He published a series of four articles about an anonymous woman being dissatisfied with the investigation into her allegation that she had been sexually assaulted by a garda. The series of articles also detailed attempts to raise the issue politically. Any person already knowing about the accusation would have been aware that the person accused was Maurice McCabe.

April 2014

Ms D complained to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission that her original complaint in 2006 had not been properly investigated and that it was wrong not to have put her allegation on the PULSE computer system. This was not likely to have disseminated beyond those offices.

18 September 2014

An article entitled “We were ‘hung out to dry’” appeared on the front page of The Anglo-Celt newspaper. It detailed the response of a number of gardaí in Bailieboro following the publication of the Guerin report in May 2014. The article said that these gardaí felt that the allegations made by Maurice McCabe “undermine public confidence in the gardaí at station because they have never had their side of the story heard”, with one unnamed garda member stating that Maurice McCabe was “the main man [in Bailieboro] … it was his job to make sure [that] files were good and that investigations were carried out right and that files were submitted on time”. This piece was based on an article which had been published in the Garda Review, a publication of the Garda Representative Association, on 16 September 2014 entitled “Abandoned outpost: Has everyone turned their backs on Bailieboro?”.

This contained comments attributed to a number of unnamed gardaí about the Guerin report and its recommendation to establish a commission of investigation into Maurice McCabe’s complaints. The article concluded:  “… if the allegations made to the Guerin Report were true, why are the gardaí named in those allegations so anxious to tell their side of the story? Why are they so insistent they want to be put before an independent Commission of Inquiry? They deserve the inquiry now.”

November 2014

An editorial in the Garda Review appeared on this issue, entitled “Is the truth inconvenient?”, calling for a commission of investigation to be established as quickly as possible. The editorial goes on: “allegations are not enough as a base for reform; yet those who should know better are using them as if they were established fact. When our political elite believes otherwise, it can come as no real surprise that a local newspaper believes allegations can vindicate the alleger.”

January 2016 

A letter arrived into the family home of Maurice McCabe from TUSLA alleging a rape offence against a young girl, supposedly Ms D. This was an allegation that she had never made.

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