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'That was an oversight on my part and human error': Social worker says she failed to notice two names on same file

The Disclosures Tribunal has heard how a HSE social work team leader wrote to gardaí about the claims in 2013.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton is chairing the Disclosures Tribunal
Mr Justice Peter Charleton is chairing the Disclosures Tribunal
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Updated 10.30pm

A SOCIAL WORKER has told the Charleton tribunal that “human error” and “an oversight” led to her failing to notice that two different alleged abuse victims were named in a report she had been working on in the one file.

The tribunal is examining claims that allegations of sexual abuse were used as part of a campaign to smear and undermine the reputation of garda whistle-blower Sergeant Maurice McCabe. The DPP decided against pressing charges in the case due to lack of evidence in 2007.

Laura Connolly, a duty social worker in Cavan town, has been giving evidence at the tribunal about how two separate and unrelated incidents were amalgamated into a single report.

She said she generated a 2014 report on an alleged incident of sexual abuse involving Sgt McCabe.

The file Connolly worked on held documents containing an accurate report of the allegations made by Ms D against Sergeant McCabe, based on a telephone call between counsellor Ms Laura Brophy and her superior.

The file also incorrectly contained allegations from Ms Y, an unrelated and more serious case, which were entered in error into a written report Brophy prepared.

Connolly said she would have relied on the written report, as when a professional put something in writing, that would be something they can stand over, while details can get lost in a phone call.

Tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton said it seemed that Connolly had amalgamated both reports in creating the “intake records”.

He said he could not understand how the two allegations were combined, or how Connolly had not noticed that there were two different people named in the report, as she had corrected Ms Y’s surname to that of Ms D on two occasions.

“My only explanation for that is that I did not detect that in that report there was a different surname in two places,” Connolly said.

That was an oversight on my part and human error.

Earlier in the hearing Connolly said she reviewed the file on Ms D on 30 April 2014.

She saw that “intake records” had not been completed on the sergeant’s children in either 2006-2007 when the first complaint was made, or in 2013 when Ms D sought counselling.

Tribunal barrister Kathleen Leader BL said that coincidentally, Ms D had gone to the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission to make a complaint the day before Connolly opened the intake records.

A number of articles by journalist Paul Williams had also appeared the same month about Ms D, who was not identified in any of the stories.

Connolly said that media reports about Sergeant McCabe’s role as a whistle-blower at the time were “not a story of interest to me or of any significance to me.” She said she listened to radio news while driving, but did not read newspapers or follow news of television or social media.

She said she only became aware of her involvement with the case when she was contacted by an investigator from the tribunal.

Earlier

Earlier in the day, Justice Charleton said he was “not impressed with the notion” that the onus was on a social worker to follow up when she did not receive a reply from a senior garda to a query about allegations of sexual abuse.

The tribunal heard that HSE social work team leader Keara McGlone had written to Superintendent Noel Cunningham and given details of three phone numbers at which she could be reached.

Superintendent Cunningham had been in charge of an investigation of allegations by a Ms D against Sergeant McCabe in 2007. The DPP had decided not to press charges citing a lack of evidence.

McGlone told Micheál P O’Higgins SC, who represents the garda commissioner, that she wrote to Cunningham about allegations received by the HSE in August 2013 from Ms D relating to McCabe. A HSE file was created in Sergeant McCabe’s name at the time.

The allegations McGlone received in 2013 were based on a telephone conversation with Laura Brophy, a counsellor who met with Ms D.

McGlone said that she had never seen a written referral from the counsellor, which recorded incorrect allegations, until the tribunal showed it to her.

On the Monday following the phone call, she decided to contact Superintendent Cunningham, to find out if the allegations from Ms D were the same ones he had investigated in 2007. She needed to confirm this before social workers could conduct an assessment of McCabe.

The letter, marked “private and confidential”, was never replied to by the superintendent or any other gardai.

McGlone said she had 230 other unallocated cases at the time, and this case was not viewed as a high priority compared to other cases.

No member of the gardaí had any involvement in creating the HSE (later Tusla) file on Maurice McCabe, she said.

McGlone moved on to another position at the end of January 2014.

She said she was not aware of McCabe’s role as a garda whistle-blower at the time.

O’Higgins, appearing on behalf of the commissioner, said that Cunningham was in charge of an investigation of allegations by Ms D in 2007, and had recommended in his report to the DPP that no charges should be brought.

He said that Superintendent Cunningham did not excuse the failure to answer McGlone’s letter in 2013. The superintendent had been on holidays in Spain when the letter was sent in August 2013, and that his father had died later that autumn.

Mr Justice Charleton said he was “not impressed with the notion” that the onus was on a social worker, having written and given details of three phone numbers at which she could be reached, to then follow up when she did not receive a reply from Cunningham.

The tribunal resumes on Monday.

Read: ‘I need to know how the garda reacted to this matter’ – Tribunal chair wants answers on McCabe child sexual abuse allegation

Read: Gardaí told social worker they had to keep erroneous McCabe report on file

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Gerard Cunningham

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