Journalist and garda officer held over leaked report

A journalist and a detective sergeant were today arrested by gardaí investigating the leak of an official report highly critical of the force.

Sunday Tribune crime correspondent Mick McCaffrey was named in the Dáil as the reporter being questioned by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI).

He was working for the Evening Herald last August when the newspaper ran a story claiming to reveal excerpts from a then unpublished report into a homeless drug addict’s false confessions to a double murder.

A Commission of Investigation inquiry found that detectives in the case had inappropriately questioned Dean Lyons while records of the interviews were potentially misleading and may have led to a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Lyons was charged with the murder of Sylvia Sheils (aged 59) and Mary Callinan (aged 61), who were stabbed to death in their beds in March 1997 in sheltered accommodation run by St Brendan’s psychiatric hospital in Grangegorman, Dublin.

The charges were dropped seven months later and he died in England afterwards. Gardaí issued an unprecedented apology to his family for charging an innocent man.

It is understood Mr McCaffrey had been interviewed by gardaí a number of times before the arrest which has sparked fresh controversy over planned privacy laws which opponents say will frustrate investigative journalism.

At the time of the Evening Herald report, the Department of Justice issued a warning to journalists that they could be breaking the law if they disclosed the contents of a Commission of Investigation inquiry.

Under the legislation, an individual can be jailed for up to five years or fined up to €300,000 for revealing the contents of an investigation before official publication of its final report.

Mr McCaffrey is being interrogated at Dublin’s Harcourt Terrace Garda Station while the detective sergeant is being questioned at Blackrock Garda Station.

Both are being detained under section four of the Criminal Justice Act and can be held for up to 24 hours.

Fine Gael’s Jim O’Keeffe demanded Justice Minister Michael McDowell make a statement on the arrests during a debate in the Dáil today.

The opposition party’s justice spokesman linked the garda investigation to Government-proposed privacy laws which critics believe will undermine the media’s ability to expose information in the public interest.

“I want to know is that [Privacy] bill going to be withdrawn, a bill that is designed to stifle investigative journalism, and I also want to know whether the master ministerial leaker himself, Michael McDowell, will make a statement in relation to the arrest of this journalist who apparently got a leaked report and published it in his paper,” Mr O’Keeffe said.

In the report into the Lyons case, the commission’s sole member, Mr George Birmingham SC, described the decision of the original investigation team to recommend a murder charge and an additional charge related to the second death as “difficult to understand and even harder to justify”.

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