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Former Sunday Independent editor: "He came back to the office and said: 'He's a paedophile'"

Former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris gave explosive testimony at the Disclosures Tribunal today.

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THE FORMER EDITOR of the Sunday Independent has told the Disclosures Tribunal that the current editor of the Irish Independent said to her in autumn of 2014 that Maurice McCabe was a “paedophile”.

Anne Harris claimed today that then-group political editor Fionnan Sheahan made the comment about McCabe to her after an editorial meeting where the whistleblower had been discussed.

Sheahan strenuously denies the claims, and his counsel put it to Harris today that she was motivated by a “grudge” and had made the claims to “deliberately damage his reputation”.

Harris came forward to the Tribunal after it was set up in February 2017, and said today it was because she didn’t know of anyone else who’d come forward to say that the rumours were flying around media and political circles about McCabe.

6661 Anne Harris_90546213 Former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Also giving evidence was journalist Gemma O’Doherty, who said that her management came down on her “like a tonne of bricks” for the way she pursued the story about Martin Callinan having penalty points wiped from his licence.

Earlier, former garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan gave evidence and said that she took “no comfort” in the suggestion that Superintendent David Taylor – the former head of the garda press office – was no longer standing over some of his allegations against her, because of the effect the claims have had.

She also said that the claim that she was aware of a campaign to smear Maurice McCabe to the effect that he was a sexual abuser had a profound effect on her family and on An Garda Síochána, and led to her decision to step down as commissioner last year.

‘Pervasive in the corridors’

Harris told the Tribunal that the first time she heard anything negative about Maurice McCabe was during an editorial meeting in May 2013 from a freelance journalist.

She said that the freelancer repeated the same rumour – to the effect that there was an allegation against McCabe – a month later but that she “shut it down”. [To note: There had been an allegation of sexual abuse made against McCabe in 2006 but he was completely exonerated of any wrongdoing.]

Harris said: “I said I never wanted to hear it again in my office. The purpose of raising [the rumour] was never to try to get the Sunday Independent to publish anything of that order. It was intended as a warning, a sort of chilling thing, on the complaints of that Sergeant.”

She said that after initially hearing these rumours, they started to proliferate, and that “you would hear quite a lot of this nudge and wink stuff around”.

The former editor said the rumours were “pervasive in the office of INM”.

Harris mentioned the name of then-group political editor at INM, Fionnan Sheahan, and said he approached her after an editorial meeting towards the end of September 2014 where McCabe had been a topic of conversation.

She said: “He came back to my office and said ‘he’s a paedophile’.”

Harris said that Sheahan was someone she respected, someone not prone to gossip and an extremely knowledgeable journalist. She said she believed he was telling her this because he believed it was a statement of fact.

When asked what she thought the purpose of him telling her this, she said: “He was tipping me off. That’s what I thought at that time… I thought that Fionnan had chosen the most extreme word so I could know how serious it was.”

She also alleged that the then-group news editor Ian Mallon had once made a remark about the whistleblower along the lines of “do you know about Sergeant McCabe and children?” Harris said this happened at some time in 2014.

Harris was asked why she didn’t name the freelance journalist who initially briefed her against McCabe and she said believed that editorial conferences with journalists were “in lodge” and that journalists would have to feel comfortable raising whatever they’d heard at these meetings without fear of it getting out.

She added: “There had to be some sort of privilege attached to them. Without that, there’d be no newspapers.”

Counsel for INM, including Sheahan and Mallon, put it to Harris that both men strenuously deny her claims.

It was put to Harris that she is “bitter” and holds a “grudge” over the change in the structure of INM that occured while she was still with the company.

It was also suggested that she had a personal dislike to Sheahan and had made these allegations to “deliberately damage his reputation”.

Harris replied that that wasn’t the case and that she respected Sheahan, and felt that if he heard that rumour then he should say where he got it.

‘It’s simple, was David Taylor bitter?’

Today’s proceedings opened with some strong words from Mr Justice Charleton.

He wanted to clarify what Superintendent Dave Taylor’s position is on the allegations he’s making against Nóirín O’Sullivan.

When Taylor was subject to disciplinary action and suspended some years ago for allegedly leaking information to the press, Charleton says his case then was that the investigation was “biased”.

The judge wanted to know today if that was still the case.

He said: “It’s simple, was David Taylor bitter? If he’s now saying he’s blaming Nóirín O’Sullivan wrongly for the investigation into him, that may impact the view I take on the central allegations.”

Counsel for a number of journalists also put questions to O’Sullivan today.

6602 Noirin O'Sullivan_90546187 O'Sullivan arriving at Dublin Castle today. Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

One was for Alison O’Reilly. It’s her assertion that a colleague of hers, Debbie McCann, told her that she’d been given information to the effect that Maurice McCabe was a child abuser.

In a statement, O’Reilly said: “I asked her was that your pal Nóirín [who told you]?” and that McCann said yes.

Nóirín O’Sullivan denied this and said that she wouldn’t have classed herself as Debbie McCann’s pal.

There was also counsel for Paul Williams attacking Taylor’s version of events.

It’s Taylor’s assertion that Williams called him when he was interviewing Ms D – the woman who’d made allegations against McCabe back in 2006 – and he talked to O’Sullivan afterwards.

The phone records did not bear out Taylor’s recollection of the dates when these conversations took place. O’Sullivan told the Tribunal today that there was “no record” for Taylor’s sequence of events.

On the subsequent story that Williams wrote, the records show a phone conversation between O’Sullivan and the journalist afterwards. It was put to her that it would have been “natural” to ask him about that story when they spoke. She replied that they didn’t talk about it.

Tusla file and intense pressure

The issue of the Tusla file that contained the completely erronenous allegation against McCabe came up again.

In May 2014, that file containing the so-called copy-paste error was brought to the office of the Commissioner.

O’Sullivan said that she doesn’t recall ever seeing this file, despite her private secretary saying he brought it to her attention.

Mr Justice Charleton said today that the file was “simply left there uncorrected”. But he added that he hadn’t seen any evidence “so far” that that information was disseminated.

O’Sullivan was also given the chance to talk about the pressure that was put on her when the allegations made by Taylor and McCabe started to come into the public domain in late-2016 and 2017.

O’Sullivan got quite emotional giving this evidence.

She described a “public outcry” with “constant and repeated calls” for her resignation. O’Sullivan criticised “erroneous” reporting of the facts and said she was under pressure because of it “morning, noon and night”.

She added that the pressure on her because of it was so intense, she decided for the well-being of her family and the good of An Garda Síochána to retire late last year.

O’Sullivan closed her evidence this morning, and was followed by former Sunday Independent editor Anne Harris and then in turn Gemma O’Doherty.

It was O’Doherty’s evidence that she was “utterly taken aback” by the response of her superiors to her going to the home of Martin Callinan to confirm it was in fact the then-commissioner who’d had penalty points wiped of his licence.

6407 Gemma O'Doherty_90546247 Gemma O'Doherty arriving at the Tribunal Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

“I had to be absolutely clear that the Martin Callinan on the Pulse document was Martin Callinan the garda commissioner,” she said.

I was being reprimanded. I was called a rogue reporter. I was told that the commissioner was extremely angry.

She said she believed the commissioner was angry more about the fact that she’d found out about the penalty points matter rather than the visit to his home. O’Doherty was removed from her position at INM a short time after this incident. She later went on to settle an unfair dismissal case against Independent Newspapers over the affair.

She also said that she’d heard rumours among political and media circles about McCabe but that she had “no time for anyone suggesting this”.

O’Doherty will continue her evidence tomorrow.

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Sean Murray

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