The Guerin Report inadvertently tarnished the reputation of gardaí who have never been asked for their side of the story, writes Neil Ward.
The Guerin report was published by the government on 9th May 2014 and examined a range of allegations made by a garda whistleblower, including 10 incidents concerning the investigation of crime by gardaí. The report entitled a ‘review of the action taken by An Garda Síochána pertaining to certain allegations members made by Sergeant Maurice McCabe’. It recommended a full judicial inquiry into cases that McCabe alleged to have been ‘seriously mishandled’ by gardaí in the Bailieboro district where he served as sergeant in charge from October 2004 until he was temporarily transferred in 2008.
The Guerin Report was tasked with producing “an independent review and undertake a thorough examination of the action taken” as well as to interview “Sgt Maurice McCabe and any other such person as may be considered necessary and capable of providing relevant and material assistance”.
The report received wide commentary, and RTÉ Prime Time broadcast a special report entitled ‘policing the future’ – but the night before publication when only the government, Sean Guerin SC and McCabe were aware of the content. One commentator prepared to appear via videolink was Baroness Nuala O’Loan who said, “It could be laziness, it could be…it could be that people are being slipped a fiver or a tenner or whatever it is just to turn a blind eye…it could be that management has got so slack that there really is no interest in doing anything.” For many viewers and gardaí, this speculation became the primary definition emanating from the allegations.
How could anyone defend members against speculation when no one yet knew what was in the report? The findings were presented as shattering revelations that could undermine the foundations of the state. Yet four months on there is still no full judicial inquiry.
One member named in the Guerin Report, Garda Oscar, believes RTÉ Prime Time was perceived as fact talked about by experts. Garda Oscar said, “There were no experts to take our side simply because they had not yet seen the report and could not comment upon it – yet other commentators were freely encouraged to speculate upon the allegations made.”
Another member named in the report, Garda Tango, said, “Everyone knows the one side of the story and have made up their minds. The media just took the one side too. I think it’s ridiculous. The media have jumped on the bandwagon so they are not going to admit they were wrong. People believe what they see on Prime Time.”
“We didn’t turn down interviews – we weren’t asked. I didn’t even know I featured in the investigation until the report was published; and it was critical of me.”
The Guerin Report conclusion includes testimony of the men and women who worked with Sergeant McCabe in the years before the complaints were made – immediate supervisors who held him in ‘high regard’.
Talking about his former sergeant-in-charge, Garda Tango said, “He himself pointed out there was no inspector here and the superintendent came for a couple of months and moved on.
“He (McCabe) was in charge here. He ran the station. He was the main man here; it was his job to make sure these files were good and that investigations were carried out right and that files were submitted on time.
“I am obviously angry. No one knows what went on here except for the members in Bailieboro Garda Station – and him. How come only one person thinks this was a badly run spot? He was the man in charge.
“No one has asked for my side of the story. I provided the file within a few days. The report does not accurately portray my memory of the events – it is all his interpretation of it. It’s all one sided but no one seems to care.”
The report makes allegations against members in the station party dating from 2007, since then many of the members in the station party have been transferred out, but a core remains. The report ‘anonymized’ gardaí using the phonetic alphabet; this cipher has been broken by colleagues and is spreading countrywide through the garda grapevine. Four months on and still no one has asked the members in Bailieboro district for their side of the story. They want to talk. They want a full investigation where all the facts are analysed and the truth comes out.
Garda Tango said, “We have never been interviewed or asked for our side of the story. No one has looked into the man’s [Sergeant McCabe] behaviour with gardaí when he was here. No one cares about that. They are just looking into what he has to say and the allegations he has made; we get no say. Nothing.
“It’s as if no one cares. No one cares about the truth. I would absolutely like to tell my side of the story.”
Garda Oscar said, “The Guerin Report is frustrating to all of us because it is one-sided; the gardaí given phonetic names were not interviewed to give their side of the story. It is flawed as a result.
“Any garda investigation I have been involved in, however minor, requires you to interview both parties – if you didn’t the case would immediately be thrown out of court.
“Everyone in the district is frustrated; how can it be fair that people are named, identifiably too, and not given any chance to put their side of the story? We didn’t turn down interviews – we weren’t asked. I didn’t even know I featured in the investigation until the report was published; and it was critical of me.”
Garda Mike said, “While our personal names were not mentioned in the report it is easy to ascertain the gardaí involved in each case, by other gardaí and certain members of the public. We were not informed that we would be so easily identifiable.
“This more frustrating as we have transferred stations and our current management may judge us in a negative way and look unfavourably upon us for investigations or potential promotion. They clearly know the identity of Garda Mike. I feel that we are guilty by association to this report and its, essentially prejudicial, outcomes.”
All the members I spoke to felt they had been tarnished by the report and feel that their reputation and record has been damaged; yet none can understand why Sean Guerin SC did not interview them. In fairness to Guerin, there was only eight weeks allotted to conduct the full review, not much time for a thorough and comprehensive investigation. It was a review of the action the organisation took on the back of the allegations – including that there were internal and discipline inquiries, and the GSOC had also investigated some of them already.
“I was involved in the community with football training but when all this was going on you become paranoid that people are looking at you differently – it’s hard to show your face.”
Through the media reaction and the public perception, allegations are reported rather than critically examined and assessed. To Bailieboro gardaí the methodology seems flawed – insofar as the allegations are taken at face value. Moreover, the members can’t understand how the allegations have been taken so seriously without giving those criticized an opportunity for reply. They know who has accused them and what the accusations are, but without any right to appeal. The longer the Commission of Inquiry is delayed, the more damage is being done.
Garda Mike said, “I find it hypocritical that a person compiling a report on alleged ineffective, poor investigations by gardaí did not interview all persons concerned – especially those who he found to be at fault. We find this is a most basic flaw; it may give rise to prejudice in the Commission of Inquiry.”
Garda Oscar has 19 years’ service and had never been criticised before; not in any file submitted in murder investigations, armed robberies, serious assaults – and never had a statute-barred file. Garda Oscar has received commendations of merit.
“Where is my reputation now? This man I have never met has drawn adverse conclusions from what someone else said; and it is just hearsay with no basis in law.
“I am angry about this, and stressed too. I can’t believe I have been named in a report and not interviewed. I have an impeccable record in the job. We are trained to take both sides of the story and analyse it – but the Guerin Report only takes one side.
“I have not been given the chance to give my side of the story. The Tuesday after publication the Minister for Justice said that the terms of reference for the inquiry would be established and the commission set up. Here we are several months later and my story has not been heard. The report now does not feature in the media, so the public perception around here is that it is fact.”
When the report was published the media largely ignored one of the key caveats from Sean Guerin; “It is possible that, with the benefit of an opportunity to interview or hear evidence from the individual members and officers of An Garda Síochána and civilians, including victims of crime, involved in these matters, a different view of the facts may emerge.”
Garda Tango said, “Everyone in the station and a good few people around the town know that I am Garda Tango, I am absolutely sure of it. It’s one sided. Surely the politicians who said they read it can see that themselves; these are meant to be educated people…he pretty much says it is one sided in the report.
“There are a few local people who don’t believe it, but the majority do. It undermines policing; we are tarnished now. I live in this town. I shop in this town. I was involved in the community with football training but when all this was going on you become paranoid that people are looking at you differently – it’s hard to show your face. These allegations go back years. As a result, I am not really involved in the community anymore. I felt myself pulling back.
“This stuff was appearing in the newspapers every other week…and it’s hard to ignore it. We thought we could ride it out, but it was constantly coming; yet you know it is ‘nonsense’.
“Local people might know you are involved with the local football and know you are a decent lad – but this blew it all out of the water.”
The organisation has been widely criticised, it is the junior members involved who have been most affected. They have been forsaken, betrayed and pilloried by those who had a duty of care towards them.
Garda Oscar said, “We are hung out to dry. The very least they can do is to come back to us and get our side of the story. We have been accused.
“The gardaí identified by the report definitely want to get their story out; every one of us. Where is the fairness, the due process or sense of balance? These are the cornerstones of our legal process and democratic rights.”
“The government has left us hanging by not establishing the Commission; if it were so important back in May, why has it not moved forward? Every week that goes by is further damaging the gardaí in Bailieboro – but it’s also damaging to the public confidence in the gardaí.
“It’s one sided. Surely the politicians who said they read it can see that themselves; these are meant to be educated people…he pretty much says it is one sided in the report.”
“The inaction has led to a public perception that the Guerin report is fact; and if we take this further it means that the gardaí in Bailieboro district have been publicly tried in the media, convicted by public opinion and sentenced by government inaction.
“Take our side of the story for starters – at least take a statement from us. That is the frustration.”
Garda Mike said, “There is also considerable stress attached to the allegations against the gardaí mentioned in the report – and there is no clarification on the terms of this Commission of Inquiry or when it may start or finish. We have been kept in the dark.
“No structures were put in place to help members deal with stressful situations or circumstances. The only information we get is from the GRA representatives.”
The impact on the members in Bailieboro has affected those not named in the report, but who were there in the years covered in the allegations. Garda Alaska (our moniker – not named in the Guerin Report) has served in the district is thankful that he was not named in the allegations. Garda Alaska said, “I know my colleagues who have been given phonetic names. I think it is very unfair on them. They are not on big wages. For months they were the focus of media attention. I can’t imagine how they felt. I can only imagine it wasn’t nice.
“At what stage did Sergeant McCabe become the whistleblower? He should have been highlighting the mistakes as they occurred. This is what has annoyed me about it all. So where was he when all the investigations were going on? How can he have seen things being done wrong and then sit on them for a couple of years? – That’s not right.
“Our authorities did not dispute anything in the media. I would like to see the truth come out – and show these incidents for what they are. If we have made mistakes, show them for what they are. But also show what we do right.”
Garda Vostok (our naming) joined the station party in 2012, but has felt the fallout from the report. Vostok said, “I have no doubt public complaints against us are going to rise. We have no protection now. Who will believe our word against malicious complaints?
“Policing in Bailieboro has never been easy. We have the highest rate of serious crime, but remain massively under-resourced because the district is not on the border. The turnover of staff has always made it harder to foster public confidence, but now – I don’t fancy my chances of promotion or any career development now that the district has been tarnished.
Another colleague who also wasn’t named in the report but was serving in Bailieboro throughout (referred to here as Garda Siberia) added another voice. Garda Siberia said, “Thankfully I am not mentioned in the Guerin Report – but I came here at a relevant time. A lot of situations in the report could have happened to any garda around the country. The policy and procedures and lack of manpower and resources that contributed to some of the incidents are nationwide.
“According to the media we are corrupt. It should have been corrected soon after. The report does not reflect this station and the good work that it does.
“It is one man’s view, it is a ball in the air; those allegations have been well-publicised and we haven’t had a chance to have a say. This came out in May. We have been abandoned since.”
There is an irony not lost on members that perhaps the former minister Alan Shatter may prove a useful ally, complaining vociferously that he was not interviewed by Sean Guerin, and is challenging the report in the High Court next month.
If the allegations made to the Guerin Report were true, why are the gardaí named in these 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.
For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.