Women’s personal details were leaked to journalists
The official Garda response to the release of the ‘rape tape’ last month was contrite and sympathetic, in accordance with the public mood of outrage. But behind the scenes, familiar tactics were deployed: Gardaí used the media to try to divert attention from the recording by maligning the women who released it. And while there was a lame attempt to blame the women for delaying the investigation in the first week, it now transpires that the Sergeant at the centre of affair still has not been interviewed by the Garda Ombudsman.
When a recording of Gardaí in Mayo talking about raping two women in their custody was made public by campaigners last month, Garda authorities and the Garda Ombudsman moved quickly to make reassuring noises. This behaviour would be taken seriously, we were told. Two separate inquiries were set up. The Garda Commissioner immediately sought to reassure “victims of sexual crime” that they should continue to report those crimes to Gardaí.
That was the public reaction. Behind the scenes, it was business as usual. The force responded as it often does when under pressure, by attempting to use allies in the media to redirect attention away from miscreant Gardaí and to portray their perceived enemies in a bad light. According to some of the campaigners involved in releasing the infamous recordings, Gardaí and the Garda Ombudsman fed false and damaging information to crime correspondents in an attempt to minimise and divert attention from the content of the recordings and to undermine the credibility of the two women whose arrest led to the scandal.
In the days after the recording hit headlines in April, the campaigners involved revealed that several journalists tipped them off that “sources” had been “briefing against” the women, passing their names and addresses to journalists and encouraging the reporting of false information about them and about the circumstances of their arrest. Further developments corroborated these tip-offs and made it clear that the sources were within the Garda Síochána.
‘Sensitivity and compassion’
Within hours of the rape comments being made public, both An Garda Síochána and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) had announced investigations into the incident. The GSOC said that the remarks, “if proven, would reflect badly on society in general and the Garda Síochána in particular." The Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he wished to re-emphasise the importance of combining professionalism with sensitivity and compassion in the investigation of sexual crimes. He said “a positive and compassionate attitude from members of An Garda Síochána is vital.” He also said: "I am sorry for the offence caused to the community we serve and for the hurt and pain felt, in particular, by victims of sexual crime."
On the same day as the Commissioner made this call for sensitivity and compassion, members of his force were responding to the two women’s experience of hearing Gardaí joke about raping them by passing their names and addresses to selected crime correspondents. Within days, Gardaí had briefed at least two crime correspondents with malicious misinformation about the circumstances of the arrest.
The story of the rape comments broke in the early hours of Tuesday, April 5th. Speaking during that week, Dublin Shell to Sea spokesperson Caoimhe Kerins said: “Later on that same Tuesday, I received a phone call from a crime correspondent. He told me that the names and addresses of Jerrie Ann Sullivan and the other woman involved had been released to several journalists.” Also speaking during that week in April, Jerrie Ann Sullivan said: “Within hours of that phone call to Caoimhe, a journalist from a daily newspaper had called to my family home in Dublin. The newspaper asked my family for comment specifically on the fact that my name and address had been released to the media. This is the address that I had given to Gardaí in Belmullet Garda station in Mayo following my arrest. There is no way journalists could have got that address except from Gardaí.”
Note that this is a different address than the one to which a News of the World reporter and photographer made an unsolicited visit some 10 days later, on April 15th. That newspaper’s edition of April 17th describes how “easy” it was to find Jerrie Ann’s address online. This was an obvious attempt by the newspaper to undermine the claims by Shell to Sea that Gardaí had leaked the names and addresses to journalists. However, the address given to Gardaí in Belmullet is Jerrie Ann’s family home, in a different part of Dublin, and it was her family home that a reporter from another newspaper had visited on April 5th.
By the end of the first week of the story (April 9th), two newspaper crime correspondents had contacted Dublin Shell to Sea to say that rumours were “doing the rounds” among crime correspondents that the circumstances of the arrest were different to those described by the two women. Caoimhe Kerins said she responded to the reporters by saying: “It is very worrying that the Garda response to this controversy about the rape comments has been to feed false information to journalists about the women involved.” She said she also assured the reporters that the rumours were entirely false. In both cases, the reporters did not deny that the rumours had emanated from Gardaí. These reporters agreed not to publish the false rumours.
News of the World
That News of the World article on April 17th – authored by Paul Williams and Debbie McCann – also falsely reported that the owner of the footage was refusing to hand it over to the GSOC. In fact, Jerrie Ann Sullivan has confirmed that all footage taken on the day in question had been handed to the GSOC three days earlier, on April 14th.
The newspaper also quoted an “unofficial source” at the GSOC attempting to undermine the credibility of Jerrie Ann Sullivan. This source appeared to confirm the newspaper's false claim that the footage had not been handed over.
How are women supposed to feel confident in reporting rape, when not only Gardaí, but also the supposedly independent Garda Ombudsman, is ‘briefing against’ the two people who made the rape comments public? The women involved agreed to co-operate with the GSOC investigation from day one. Yet on the day before coming to meet the GSOC on April 18th, Jerrie Ann was faced with reports of the GSOC anonymously making damaging comments about her.
The false claims by the News of the World represented a continuation of the line spun by the GSOC in the first week of the story: namely, that it was carrying out a speedy investigation, but that this was in danger of being delayed because the women involved were not co-operating.
Ironically, it was revealed last week – five weeks after the “rape tape” story broke – that the most senior Garda whose voice is heard in the infamous recording has not yet been interviewed by the GSOC. The Mayo News reported on May 10th that the Garda in question is “on certified sick leave and may not be interviewed by the GSOC this year”. Kieran Fitzgerald of the GSOC told the newspaper: “We do not put time limits on our investigations in the hope that all the relevant parties will be interviewed.”
The Paul Williams factor
Paul Williams, co-author of this News of the World article, is Ireland’s archetypal “crime correspondent”, writing stories sympathetic to the Gardaí and attacking the Gardaí’s critics. He has also taken a personal interest in the Corrib Gas project. Williams was a corporate guest of Shell at the Ireland-England rugby match in Croke Park in February 2007, something he admitted on the Marian Finucane show on RTE Radio One last month (April 10th). On that programme he also admitted to being “very close to the police for many, many years”. In June 2009 he presented a TV3 documentary about the Corrib Gas dispute, which was widely condemned for its blatant bias and crude smearing of campaigners.
More important than Williams’ relationship with Shell is his relationship with An Garda Síochána. When he says he is “very close to the police”, this is in part because he relies on Gardaí for his biggest stories, those that obsess about gangland criminals. Gardaí are key players in the Corrib dispute, having been thrust by the government into the middle of the dispute. When local people and international human rights organisations highlight the brutality of policing in north Mayo, Gardaí turn to crime correspondents – such as Williams and Jim Cusack in the Sunday Independent – to falsely portray campaigners as violent extremists.
Every mainstream newspaper has a crime correspondent. They enjoy a close relationship with Gardaí and depend on Gardaí for most of their stories. When campaigners released the recording of the rape comments to the mainstream media, they assumed that there would be a backlash against the campaign and possibly against the women involved, instigated by Gardaí and facilitated by crime correspondents. They were right about the attempts by Gardaí to instigate such a backlash. However, what is noteworthy about the rape comments story is that – with the exception of a particularly lame effort by Paul Williams in the News of the World – this backlash did not transpire.
It appears that “Garda sources” underestimated the sense of outrage at the rape comments among the public and as articulated by advocacy groups, politicians and media commentators. Evidently, newspapers did not feel the public would have the appetite for the customary “turning” of the story that tends to occur after a few days. Indeed, the fact that two crime correspondents even took the unusual step of alerting Shell to Sea about the leaking of names and addresses and about the false rumours illustrates that this was was no ordinary story.
Policing of the Corrib project
The Garda approach to dealing with the rape comments controversy is echoed at the highest level of the justice system. On April 13th, Fine Gael’s Justice Minister Alan Shatter also sought to minimise the seriousness of the Garda comments by accusing “some involved in the Corrib dispute of exploiting this incident with the aim of undermining trust in the Garda Síochána and of compromising the policing of the dispute.”
If Minister Shatter were to browse through some of the reports by international human rights organisations into policing of the Corrib Gas project, he would see that it is Gardaí working in Erris who have been undermining trust in An Garda Síochána. These organisations include Front Line, which published a report in April 2010 following an investigation by barrister Brian Barrington; and the San Francisco-based Global Community Monitor.
The record on complaints to the Garda Ombudsman in relation to Corrib protests might also be a factor in a lack of trust in An Garda Síochána. The GSOC began hearing complaints in May 2007. Between that date and November 2009, 111 complaints were lodged with it in relation to policing of protests against the Corrib Gas project. Of the 111, 78 were deemed admissible, but only seven files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Most strikingly, only one file has been sent to the Garda Commissioner’s office calling for disciplinary procedures. To date, no disciplinary action has been taken. Despite this damning failure, dozens more complaints have been lodged since November 2009, as the GSOC complaints procedure remains the only route open to people who have experienced Garda violence and misconduct.