CHAPTER 9 The Media
SECTION A: — RTE´ ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ Broadcast on 20th April, 2000
The siege at Abbeylara was a major item broadcast soon after the commencement of the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ news and current affairs radio programme on 20th April, 2000. ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ is a programme on RTE´ (Radio Telefı´s E´ireann) Radio 1. RTE´ is the national broadcaster. The programme included, for the first time on RTE´ (or in any other broadcast), publication of John Carthy’s name. It also included interviews about him with Fr. Fitzpatrick, the Abbeylara parish priest and two local people, Mr. Michael Heaney, a neighbour, and Mrs. Mary McDowell. The latter provided details of an intimate personal relationship between Mr. Carthy and a young woman which had been recently terminated by her. Mrs. McDowell was also asked in course of her interview by Niall O’Flynn, the RTE´ reporter concerned, ‘‘If you could talk to John now, have you a message for him?’’ She replied: ‘‘Well, John, John, ifI was you, John, come out. Everybody loves you and everybody is thinking about you and worrying about you, and you are a good friend and you have lots of friends here. So, please, John, please, come out’’. A similar question was put to Mr. Heaney and he also urged Mr. Carthy to surrender to the police.
Ruling by the Chairman on 9th July, 2004
The propriety of the foregoing ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast is an issue which the Tribunal is required to consider. In response to an application made by counsel for RTE´, the parameters in that regard were specified by the Tribunal in a Ruling made on 9th July, 2004, in the following terms:
‘‘Counsel for RTE´ has made an application to the Tribunal seeking clarification of its Terms of Reference regarding investigation of broadcasts made by RTE´ on 20th April, 2000 concerning events at the home of the late John Carthy at Abbe ylara on 1 9th/20th April and related matters.
Brief Background Facts
At the relevant time there were two dwellings on the Carthy family holding at Tone ymore, Abbe ylara, i.e., the original sin gle-storey building where generations of the family had resided for upwards of sixty years and a new house. The original was in generally poor condition and required to be replaced. The local authority recognised that fact and built a new dwelling nearby which on 19th April, 2000 was almost ready for occupation. The intention was that John Carthy and his widowed mother, Rose, the only regular
occupants, would transfer to the new home and the original building would be demolished by the local authority.
For upwards of ten years John Carthy had suffered from a bipolar mental disorder which from time to time had required in-patient psychiatric treatment. His condition had deteriorated in the weeks prior to his death and he had arranged to consult his psychiatrist at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin on 20th April. Mr. Carthy was unhappy about the proposed demolition of the old home which had strong family associations for him. In the months prior to his death he had also other stressful circumstances in his life which appear to have added to his general distress at that time.
On 19th April John Carthy indicated that he proposed to occupy and defend the old house against all comers. He was armed with a shotgun and a substantial quantity of ammunition. During the afternoon he sent his mother to her sister’s house nearby and he commenced firing the shotgun in the air. The family were very concerned for his safety and the safety of others. The matter was reported to the police at Granard. Officers came shortly afterwards to investigate and further shots were fired by Mr. Carthy. Substantial police reinforcements were sent to the scene, including armed officers, under Superintendent Shelly. It was decided to obtain the assistance of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU). A detachment of ERU officers arrived at the scene at about 10.00 p.m. on 19th March. They included a trained negotiator. Thereafter occasional shots were fired by John Carthy and protracted efforts were made by the negotiator to have a meaningful dialogue with him. Chief Superintendent Tansey, the divisional officer, requested that Superintendent John Farrelly, national press officer of the Garda Sı´ocha´na, attend at the scene as a large media presence was anticipated. He duly arrived later that evening and acted as Garda spokesman with the media. A substantial number of journalists attended at the scene. RTE´ was represented by Mr. Paul Reynolds, its chief crime reporter, who came with a television crew. He was responsible for news broadcasts about the event. Mr. Reynolds has not yet given evidence, but it appears that he was requested by Superintendent Farrelly not to publish Mr. Carthy’s name or personal details about him. The police do not have power to prohibit the media from publishing such details but in the interest of saving life and/or property and/or in the interest of the common good such requests are frequently made to the media and in the case of RTE´ it appears to have been their practice to comply when asked to take that course. In subsequent news bulletins up to the death of John Carthy Mr. Reynolds did not publish the deceased’s name or personal details about him.
As it transpired, RTE´ was doubly represented at Abbe ylara as from the morning of 20th April. By coincidence Mr. Niall O’Flynn, a senior member of the Current Affairs section and editor of the programme entitled ‘Five/Seven Live’ which is broadcast each weekday evening on RTE´ Radio 1, was driving to work in Dublin from Sligo. While listening to the radio, he heard his colleague, Mr. Rodney Rice, referring to what was happening at Abbe ylara but without
mentioning Mr. Carthy’s name or personal details about him. Mr. O’Flynn was near Granard at the time and realised that he was in the immediate vicinity of the event which he regarded as one of substantial public interest. He decided that it would be advantageous to investigate it with a view to preparing an appropriate item for inclusion in the ‘Five/Seven Live’ programme to be broadcast that evening. He obtained authority from a superior in RTE´ and drove to Abbe ylara where he met Mr. Reynolds and had the benefit of the television crew which he already had at the scene. Mr. O’Flynn interviewed a number of local people. His intention was to arrange vox pops for inclusion in the programme. Two of those interviewed were a neighbour of the Carthy family, Mr. Michael Heaney, and a casual friend of John Carthy’s, Mrs. Mary McDowell, who gave him lifts to or from work at Longford from time to time. Each described their impression of the deceased and their association with him over the years. Each was asked if they could talk to John Carthy now had they a message for him. Both responded and, in effect, urged him to surrender to the gardaı´. Mrs. McDowell referred to certain intimate personal details in the light of the recent break-up of a relationship with a girlfriend and the alleged reasons why that had happened. The latter topic had not been raised by the Garda negotiator, though known by him, as he had been advised by the Carthy family that it would be stressful for Mr. Carthy to do so and he had been asked by them not to introduce that subject. He had complied with the request.
Mr. O’Flynn did not give Superintendent Farrelly, or any member of the Garda Sı´ocha´na, prior notice about the content of the proposed item on Abbe ylara which he had devised for inclusion in the ‘Five/Seven Live’ programme. He intended that it would be the first feature after the usual news headlines and that he would also participate in the broadcast which was to be presented by Mr. Myles Dungan. It was intended to name Mr. Carthy and to publish substantial personal details about him, including the recently terminated intimate relationship which he had with his girlfriend.
Having regard to the present state of the evidence it is not entirely clear when Mr. O’Flynn became aware of the Garda request not to publish Mr. Carthy’s name or personal details about him. Suffice to comment presently that he would have been aware from the item broadcast by Mr. Rodney Rice that no personal details were given by him about Mr. Carthy. Was it reasonable to assume that that arose out of a Garda request? It is also not in dispute that minutes before the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast Mr. O’Flynn had a meeting with Superintendent Farrelly who then learned for the first time that it was intended to publish Mr. Carthy’s identity and personal details about him. He expressed strong disapproval but Mr. O’Flynn pointed out that it was then too late to change the programme which was on the point of broadcast. It proceeded as planned without any alteration.
The Tribunal’s Terms of Reference
The Tribunal was established in April, 2002 on foot of resolutions by both Houses of the Oireachtas which resolved that a Tribunal be established under
the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 – 2002 to enquire into the following matters of urgent public importance:
‘‘The facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbe ylara, Co. Longford on 20th April 2000. .. .’’
The RTE´ Application
In course of my ruling on 24th March, 2004 in response to an application by RTE´ that although John Carthy had the benefit of a radio in his kitchen which was frequently turned on during the siege, there was insufficient evidence to establish that he had listened to the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast, or even if he had done so, that he had been affected by it. Having considered all relevant evidence I accepted that submission and held as follows:
‘The end result would appear to be that even if John Carthy heard the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast, it would be very difficult indeed to be satisfied as a matter of probability that it significantly influenced his subsequent conduct in leaving the house.
However, that is not the end of the matter. Mr. Hanratty [counsel for RTE´] concedes that there are two other issues which his clients must address. First, whether RTE´ personnel were asked by Superintendent Farrelly, or anyone on behalf of the Garda Sı´ocha´na, not to broadcast John Carthy’s identity or personal details relating to him in course of the siege. In all the circumstances was it reasonable for such a request to have been made to RTE´ and other interested media? Should it have been complied with?
Secondly, what was the purpose of Mr. Dungan’s broadcast on 20th April regarding the siege of John Carthy at Abbeylara? Why were Mr. Heaney and Mrs. McDowell recruited to address personal messages to John Carthy, one of which included a statement on air of intimate personal details regarding a romantic relationship which had been terminated by the other party concerned?
Was the purpose of the broadcast to reach and influence John Carthy? It appears from the transcript of it that RTE´, and in particular its correspondent at Abbeylara, was aware that throughout the siege Garda negotiators were endeavouring to establish a rapport and meaningful contact with Mr. Carthy.
The motivation of RTE´ as to the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast requires to be investigated by the Tribunal regardless of whether or not the broadcaster was successful in reaching John Carthy. Furthermore, the issue as to whether the conduct of RTE´ amounted to an unjustified interference with An Garda Sı´ocha´na in their efforts to negotiate with John Carthy also requires consideration.
The foregoing are the issues which will be addressed, inter alia, in the media module in due course. They will not include the question as to whether John Carthy is likely to have heard the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast.
Having quoted the foregoing extract from the Tribunal’s Ruling, the written submission furnished on behalf of RTE´ continues as follows:
‘20. Perhaps, again for the avoidance of doubt, it is important to emphasise that RTE´ fully accepts that the matters described in the Sole Member’s ruling fall properly within the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference....’ However, it was urged that: ‘The present submission is limited to the proposition that the ethics or propriety of RTE´’s journalism falls outside the Terms of Reference of the Tribunal. Nor is it correct to suggest that an inquiry into the full range of issues already enumerated by the Tribunal would be banal, mechanical or trite in the absence of a further ‘‘ethical propriety of RTE´’s editorial and journalistic decision-making’’ module. It need hardly be said that RTE´ cannot and does not contend that in respect of those matters that concern it within the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference, it is entitled to immunity from criticism.’
Having considered all of the submissions furnished by various parties on the RTE´ application and all relevant evidence introduced to date, I am satisfied that the facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of John Carthy as specified in the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference include matters which add to or could have potential for aggravating the deceased’s apparently serious mental distress which became progressively more severe as the episode at Abbe ylara continued (vide the evidence of Dr. John Sheehan and other psychiatrists given at the Tribunal), and in consequence the potential for undermining the possibility of successful dialogue between the Garda negotiator and John Carthy which might have avoided the circumstances that gave rise to his death. In that regard details, particularly those relating to the recent termination of an intimate personal relationship, could lead to significant additional harm — a matter specifically drawn to the attention of the Garda negotiator by members of the Carthy family. Their advice had been accepted by the negotiator and acted on by him.
There are a number of questions which it is proper for the Tribunal to consider in the context of the media module — the net issue being whether Mr. O’Flynn’s conduct in orchestrating the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast in the form in which it was made was reasonable and appropriate in all the circumstances.
The questions which require to be addressed are as follows:
Was Mr. O’Flynn, or any other senior RTE´ person at the scene, requested by Superintendent Farrelly not to broadcast John Carthy’s identity or personal details? Ought Mr. O’Flynn have been aware of any such request? If such a request was made was it reasonable in all the circumstances and should it have been complied with? Was Mr. O’Flynn aware, or ought he to have been aware from reasonable enquiries, of the following facts:
(a) that John Carthy suffered from mental illness and that his conduct at Abbe ylara was likely to have been motivated by that condition;
(b) that from arrival of the ERU negotiator on the evening of 1 9th April there had been ongoing efforts to have meaningful dialogue with John Carthy directed towards ending the impasse;
(c) that a successful outcome of such negotiations was of crucial importance in bringing the event to the desired conclusion.
Should Mr. O’Flynn have informed Superintendent Farrelly of what was intended by him regarding the proposed ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast so that he might consult with the Garda negotiator and the scene commander. It is noted that Mr. O’Flynn appears to have been unaware of the Carthy family concern about the harmful effect on the deceased if his severed intimate relationship had been referred to in course of negotiations. It follows that the effect on John Carthy would have been substantially more serious if the information in question was made public by RTE´ and he had heard the broadcast. It is probable that if Mr. O’Flynn had consulted Superintendent Farrelly and the latter had referred information about the proposed broadcast to the negotiator and scene commander, he, Mr. O’Flynn, would have been then informed about the potential risk of aggravating Mr. Carthy’s mental state if his personal details were made public by RTE´. If Mr. O’Flynn had been so informed by Superintendent Farrelly and had been specifically requested by him not to broadcast the proposed vox pops would he, as editor of the programme and the orchestra tor of its contents about events at Abbe ylara, have had an obligation on behalf of the national broadcaster to accede to Superintendent Farrelly’s request and to delete the proposed vox pops in the light of all relevant circumstances? What objective did Mr. O’Flynn have in including the vox pops in the Abbeylara item? Had he known, or ought he to have ascertained, that John Carthy had the benefit of a radio which he played frequently during the siege? Was he genuinely hopeful that Mr. Carthy might listen to the proposed ‘Five/Seven Live’ programme and hear the vox pop messages to be broadcast by Mr. Heaney and Mrs. McDowell? Alternatively, was Mr. O’Flynn’s primary objective to inject personal drama and interest into the Abbe ylara story for the benefit of the listening public at large? Did Mr. O’Flynn confide in Mr. Paul Reynolds as
to what his intentions were regarding the content of the proposed ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast? If not, should he have done so as Mr. Reynolds was a senior broadcaster with long experience of dealing with the police? Was Mr. O’Flynn aware that Mr. Reynolds had received a request from Superintendent Farrelly not to divulge Mr. Carthy’s identity or personal details? If not, should he have been aware of that fact? Should he have ascertained what the attitude of the police was regarding the publication of details about John Carthy? On the basis of information which Mr. O’Flynn had or ought to have known, did the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast constitute a significant risk of aggravating John Carthy’s mental distress if he heard the broadcast, and/or of undermining Garda negotiations with the deceased?
As already specified in the Tribunal’s Ruling on 24th March, 2004, the fact that an analysis of evidence which has subsequently emerged relating to the activities of John Carthy at or about the time of the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast indicates the probability that he did not listen to it, does not determine the issue which the Tribunal is required to address. The essence of the latter is an analysis of Mr. O’Flynn’s state of mind and decisions made by him in the knowledge that his programme when broadcast might reach John Carthy and appears to have been intended so to do.
I am satisfied that all of the foregoing matters should be investigated and ruled upon by the Tribunal and that they are properly within its Terms of Reference.
Finally, I wish to state that I do not regard the Tribunal’s Terms of Reference as including a requirement to investigate RTE´’s statutory obligations under Section 18 (1B) of the Broadcasting Act, 1960 as amended in the context of the Abbe ylara item in the ‘Five/Seven Live’ broadcast on 20th April, 2000 or a general investigation of editorial policy or internal rules regarding the conduct of RTE´ personnel. Basically the Tribunal’s concern is to investigate in the context of RTE´ broadcasts what happened at Abbe ylara on 1 9th/20th April, 2000 relating to such broadcasts and whether anything different should have happened in that regard in the light of all relevant circumstances.’’
‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast — the circumstances
John Carthy’s name was not broadcast until the Abbeylara item in the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ radio programme on RTE´ 1 shortly after 5:00 p.m. on the second day of the siege. Although his involvement in the event was well known to people in Abbeylara and in the locality where he lived, Superintendent John Farrelly, the Garda Press Officer and in charge of the Garda Public Relations Office (also known as the Garda Press Office), explained in evidence that the reason why the gardaı´ did not wish to have the subject’s name disclosed publicly was that once that detail emerged it would tend to open a floodgate of personal information by elements in the media.
Although the disclosure of identity in Mr. O’Flynn’s broadcast had potential for harm as explained by Superintendent Farrelly, it was not a serious matter per se in the context of the particular broadcast. Disclosure of his identity would seem to have been unlikely to have caused significant distress to John Carthy if he had heard the disclosure in the context of a news bulletin concerning events at Abbeylara. However, it is probable that the promulgation of intimate personal details about his love life by Mrs. McDowell in her vox pop is likely to have caused him substantial distress if he had heard the broadcast and also distress for his family who had requested that such information should not be the subject-matter of Garda negotiations with him. That topic clearly had the potential to interfere with the negotiations and would have been a source of embarrassment for the negotiator with the subject and with Ms Marie Carthy, with whose request for non-disclosure he had complied.
The Garda Press Office and the Garda Code
The relevant Garda obligations as to press relations, are contained in the Garda Code, chapter 18.3.e, which provides:
‘‘(e) When an incident occurs which is likely to attract national or international media attention, the Garda Public Relations Office will be contacted immediately so that this office can arrange to liaise with press representatives, arrange press briefings and organise press conferences. Where it is decided to hold a press conference, the public relations officer present will take charge of the arrangements and conduct the conference. Divisional and District Officers, in particular, should ensure that the Garda Public Relations Office is promptly notified in all appropriate cases and kept informed on developments. It is the responsibility of local personnel to give all available information to the Garda Public Relations Office, where the staff shall in turn be responsible for the dissemination of the information to the media.’’
The Garda Press Office operates on a daily basis between 7:30 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. At the relevant time it had 16 staff comprising Superintendent Farrelly as officer in charge, one Inspector, four Sergeants, nine gardaı´ and one civilian office administrator. Gardaı´in this office work on a shift basis. Approximately four members of staff are in the office at any given time. Superintendent Farrelly was on call 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
On 19th April, Garda Ronan Farrelly was on duty in the office from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. At approximately 6:55 p.m. he received a call from Chief Superintendent Tansey, the Divisional Officer for Longford/Westmeath, who gave him certain information about the incident which was unfolding at Abbeylara. He was informed that a man had fired a number of shots at gardaı´ and that he was in a house which was surrounded by police.
Garda Ronan Farrelly informed his colleagues, who were working with him, of the incident. At 7:50 p.m he contacted Superintendent Farrelly, who was at his home. He informed him that Chief Superintendent Tansey had reported an ongoing incident at Abbeylara where a man in his 20s was ‘‘holed up’’ in a house with a shotgun. Superintendent Farrelly was informed that the man had had an altercation with his mother at around 5:30 p.m. that day. She was out of the house and no one else was present. The gardaı´ had been called to the scene earlier and a number of shots had been discharged by the man, one of which damaged a patrol car. Superintendent Farrelly could not recall when he received information regarding John Carthy’s mental illness. He was told that the media were aware of the situation. It was agreed that a verbal statement would be given informally to media personnel who requested information. It would not be distributed in the form of a press release. The initial information which it was agreed could be given out was ‘‘probably in line’’ with a document discovered to the Tribunal which read:
‘‘Siege in Longford, Wednesday 1 9th of April, 2000. Gardaı´ called to a house in Abbe ylara near Granard County Longford following an altercation there around 5.30 p.m. Man aged in his late 20s. Has a shotgun. On his own in the house. Has discharged a number of shots. Nobody reported injured. Area surrounded by gardaı´ and road closed off to traffic’’.
This information was ‘‘put on a clipboard, so another officer would take the call and he would repeat what was on this without having full knowledge of what was going on’’.
Superintendent Farrelly immediately drove to Abbeylara.
Media contact with the Garda Press Office
Prior to Superintendent Farrelly arriving in Abbeylara in the late evening of 1 9th April, a number of journalists contacted the Press Office seeking information. Sergeant Farrelly confirmed to the callers, what he described as, ‘‘basic facts only‘‘. Calls were logged, kept in clipboard fashion and were available to all members in the Press Office (numbering between three and five at any one time). He recalled having obtained the name of the person at the centre of the incident, John Carthy. However, the identity of individuals in such cases is not information which persons in the press office issue, or would issue, to callers. Mr. Carthy’s identity was not disclosed to anyone.
Portion of a TV3 News item concerning the incident which was broadcast between 7:12 p.m. and 7:13 p.m. on 19th of April was played to the Tribunal. Garda Ronan Farrelly agreed that it was possible that confirmation of the circumstances of an incident emanated from his office. However, he had no specific recollection of speaking to anyone. He had no recollection of discussing a request to see a doctor and he certainly would not have given out that information had he had it in his possession.
The evidence indicates that from a very early stage, perhaps within the first hour, the media, including national organizations, were aware of the incident and soon afterwards many were represented at the scene.
With regard to the Garda policy on how journalists deal with identities, Garda Ronan Farrelly stated that from his experience, journalists would know or ought to know immediately that the Garda Press Office would not be naming the person concerned ‘‘in this particular type of situation’’. If a journalist asked him to identify the individual, that would signify to him that a very inexperienced journalist was dealing with the matter. The question of naming John Carthy did not arise during the series of initial phone calls to the press office. He believes that he did not record details of the subject’s medical condition, or the fact that a doctor had been called because ‘‘we would not have been issuing those details’’. He has no recollection of Chief Superintendent Tansey informing him that the man involved had manic depression.
The Garda Press Office was updated subsequently on 19th April (probably before 10:00 p.m.) and learned that the area had been sealed off, that a trained negotiator was at the scene; and that about 20 shots had been fired from the house.
Garda Ronan Farrelly confirmed that he did not contact the media in an unsolicited way nor was he aware of any of his colleagues so doing. He confirmed that the Press Office would be proactive if required. In this case, nothing was issued or volunteered.
The Press Office did not handle many inquiries after Superintendent Farrelly arrived at the scene as most were addressed to him there. Garda Ronan Farrelly did not recall receiving any queries to the press office on the morning of 20th April seeking confirmation of the name of the individual. He did not see the newspapers that morning and stated in evidence that if he had received a request from the media to confirm Mr. Carthy’s identity, he would not have complied with that request. He also stated in evidence that he was satisfied, from experience, that this was not an appropriate case in which to name the individual at the heart of the ongoing operation.
The Garda Sı´ocha´na has no power to direct the media to maintain a blackout on information on a particular matter which is the subject of police investigation or to refrain from publishing details which are regarded by the police as being sensitive, e.g., the name and state of health of a person under siege. However, up to the Abbeylara event the practice had been that there was an informal arrangement between the Garda Press Office and the media that in relevant cases particular information would not be published where it was intimated that the police believed that it would not be in the public interest so to do. Previously, such requests had been almost invariably complied with by the media: an effective de facto voluntary arrangement was in being which worked satisfactorily in practice.
During the course of his evidence to the Tribunal, Mr. Paul Reynolds, an RTE´ journalist who specialized in crime reporting, confirmed that in cases where human
life was at stake, such as a kidnapping, the police might request a complete news blackout. It was his experience that all such requests would be referred either to senior management or editorial personnel and were normally complied with. From time to time, however, circumstances may arise where it is considered that public news overrides other considerations and that therefore people might be named. Overall, Mr. Reynolds confirmed that the ethos and tradition in RTE´ is to comply with any reasonable requests made by the gardaı´, while retaining the station’s overall independence and editorial discretion. Mr. Tom Maguire, who was the daytime editor of Radio 1 in April, 2000, confirmed in evidence that where a formal request is made for a complete media blackout, such a request could go to the Director General, ‘‘who is our editor in chief’’; it could go to one of the output heads being the director of radio, director of news, director of television or a duty editor, and in that way a formal request makes its way down through the system to each of the programme producers. According to Mr. Maguire it is the practice within RTE´ that if such a formal request is made, then, generally speaking, it will be complied with. When asked whether it was a matter for the producer of each programme to decide whether or not to comply with such requests, he confirmed that the decision was in fact made at a higher level. However, the decision is subject to review during the course of the day.
With regard to less formal requests for sensitivity, Mr. Maguire confirmed that whether such a request is complied with depends on the circumstances. Generally speaking, the producer or the editor of a programme will be guided by the person on the ground, i.e., the person who is in possession of the information and who is running with the story.
Chief Superintendent Tansey stated in evidence that Superintendent Farrelly would not have regarded the Abbeylara incident as one which would warrant a request for a media blackout. Nevertheless it was an incident in which the evidence indicates that Superintendent Farrelly called for sensitivity by the media.
It is not part of my remit to consider the general nature of the relationship between the Garda Sı´ocha´na and the media regarding the publication of information in conjunction with potentially sensitive events; or whether there should be specific statutory power to control media publication in such circumstances. My function on this issue is limited to a review of the structuring of the RTE´ ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ broadcast on 20th April relating to the Abbeylara item and its content. Suffice to reiterate in passing that the evidence which I have heard establishes that although the police have no power to prevent media publication of information, there is a de facto arrangement between the Garda Press Office and the media whereby, inter alia, the latter may be requested not to publish certain sensitive details in connection with a police investigation of an incident and it is normal practice to comply with such requests on a voluntary basis.
Superintendent Farrelly’s attendance at the scene
On his arrival in Abbeylara, at 9:30 p.m. on 19th April, Superintendent Farrelly went into a local shop to seek directions. While there he met Ms Ann Walsh, cousin and neighbour of John Carthy. He agreed in evidence that Ms Walsh may have said something to him about the presence of the media, but had no specific recollection of what she said. Ms Walsh, in evidence, said that she told Superintendent Farrelly that the media presence was not going to be of any help to John Carthy; he told her ‘‘that was what he was there for... to keep them at bay’’.
Superintendent Farrelly then proceeded in the direction of the local church. A television satellite broadcast van was parked in its vicinity. Approximately five members of the media were present at that stage. He spoke briefly to them. They sought interviews but he informed them that he would not give an interview until he was fully briefed and that he would return to them in due course.
He received his first on scene briefing from Chief Superintendent Tansey and from Superintendent Shelly, the scene commander. It was agreed between them that Superintendent Farrelly would handle all media related issues from that point on until the incident was concluded. It was also agreed that he would control information flow to the media, insofar as that was possible.
In evidence, Superintendent Farrelly stated that meetings which he had with Superintendent Shelly or Chief Superintendent Tansey were of short duration. He was very conscious of time, which was a huge element with the media. In evidence, he stated that he did not have the luxury of lengthy briefings because of his awareness of the media time constraints as to broadcasting and print publication.
Superintendent Farrelly informed Chief Superintendent Tansey that it was not his intention to give the media details of the contents of ongoing negotiations with John Carthy. The reason for not so doing was that he did not wish to invite a running commentary by the media on every aspect of what was happening. He accepted in evidence that there is a practice/policy within the Garda Press Office to liaise with the police at the scene before releasing statements to the media.
He returned to the vicinity of the church at approximately 10:00 p.m. He spoke to a number of media people ‘‘off the record’’. He informed them that he would not be giving them details of the contents of negotiations. There were between ten and twelve media people present at that stage. He informed them that there was a possibility that the subject could be listening to radio or watching television broadcasts. He stated that members of the media present already knew John Carthy’s name, but he requested them not to publish it. He informed them that John Carthy had depression and that from a safety point of view he did not want anything broadcast or published which would exacerbate the situation. According to Superintendent Farrelly, the media agreed to this: during the course of the next 24 hours, when different media personnel arrived at the scene, he repeated his request to them.
He was first approached by Ms Jenny McCudden of TV3 on the night of 1 9th April. She was about to go live on air. She requested Superintendent Farrelly to participate in the broadcast, which he did. During the course of his interview he confirmed that it was not his intention to broadcast details of the negotiations. He left the scene shortly after midnight and returned on the following morning at 8:00 a.m. During that morning he participated in a number of live television and radio interviews. He took part in another live television interview with Ms McCudden and was interviewed also on the ‘‘Pat Kenny Show’’ (which on that morning was being hosted by Mr. Rodney Rice). Superintendent Farrelly was interviewed by Mr. Paul Reynolds, RTE´ crime correspondent; he also participated in many other radio interviews during that day. Up to 25 journalists were present at Abbeylara during the morning of 20th April.
RTE´ personnel at the scene
There were two senior RTE´ persons present at the scene:
(a) Mr. Paul Reynolds, Senior Crime Correspondent who arrived at Abbeylara on the morning of 20th April having had phone contact with Superintendent Farrelly on the previous night. The news division did not, at any stage prior to the death of John Carthy, publish his name or any significant personal information about his health, employment or personal relationships.
(b) Niall O’Flynn, a senior editor and series producer of the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ programme which is part of a separate current affairs division in RTE´ and not attached to the news section.
John Carthy’s name and certain intimate personal details were broadcast on the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ programme.
Mr. Paul Reynolds
Mr. Reynolds was appointed Crime Correspondent with RTE´ in December, 1996. The job entails the reporting on crime for all RTE´ outlets, radio and television. His primary responsibility is to the RTE´ newsroom. He researches, writes, files and broadcasts crime stories for news and also current affairs programmes such as ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’, which have news content. He broadcasts hourly radio bulletins for both RTE´ 1 and 2FM, when necessary. He also works for the radio news programmes ‘‘Morning Ireland’’, ‘‘News at One‘‘ and Sunday’s, ‘‘This Week’’. It is part of his function to contribute or report, when requested, to other RTE´ radio and television programmes such as the ‘‘Pat Kenny Show’’, ‘‘Live Line’’, ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’, etc. In many instances, these programmes also use their own contributors. Generally speaking, information which Mr. Reynolds gathers is put on an internal RTE´ news system known as ‘‘Newsstar’’. Information on this system is available to all authorized RTE´ personnel.
Mr. Reynolds confirmed that when dealing with an Abbeylara type incident, there are no written guidelines in RTE´ as to how personnel should deal with the Garda Sı´ocha´na. Nevertheless, under newsroom custom and practice, the coverage of events such as sieges or kidnapping is informed by a number of factors including
past experiences of similar incidents, a clearly defined path of editorial reference upwards for advice and guidance, and common sense. There is a defined chain of editorial command within the newsroom up to the Director of News and ‘‘higher’’ if necessary. According to Mr. Reynolds, factors which are taken into account include potential interference with Garda investigations. In evidence, he stated that he was perhaps ‘‘more aware than most’’ of the need for sensitivity to ensure that information which was placed in the public domain would not have the effect of interfering with a Garda operation or investigation. Such awareness is borne from his experience and position and the high level of contact which he has with members of the Garda Sı´ocha´na and its Press Officer.
Mr. Reynolds had access to Superintendent Farrelly’s mobile phone number and he confirmed that the superintendent was very accessible. It was his practice to respect requests from Superintendent Farrelly not to use certain information of a confidential, or off the record nature, when so requested.
Mr. Reynolds first heard of the Abbeylara incident while watching the early evening news on Wednesday, 19th April, 2000. He telephoned the Garda Press Office which confirmed the basic details of the incident. He was subsequently interviewed for RTE´ television news by phone from his home. Prior to that broadcast, Mr. Reynolds spoke to Superintendent Farrelly on his mobile phone. This conversation took place some time before 9:00 p.m. Superintendent Farrelly stated that he had no recollection of having had a discussion with Mr. Reynolds prior to the 9:00 p.m. news on Wednesday, 1 9th April. However, in evidence, he accepted that Mr. Reynolds may indeed have contacted him by phone. He is certain that other media outlets rang him while he was on his way to Abbeylara. Mr. Reynolds believes that Superintendent Farrelly told him at that time, ‘‘off the record’’, that John Carthy was suffering from depression. From an early stage, he was satisfied that there was not a criminal motivation as such for the incident and that it looked more like a ‘‘domestic incident’’. Mr. Reynolds stated that he regarded information concerning John Carthy’s depression as being ‘‘for guidance’’. He also received information from the Garda Press Office that the subject had had a dispute with his mother and that he had ordered her out of the house. It was clear to him that the man was agitated, upset and volatile. The fact that the subject had ordered his own mother out of the house, ‘‘set off alarm bells in his head’’ that this was some kind of domestic incident. Mr. Reynolds confirmed in evidence that ‘‘we would be particularly sensitive in reporting domestic matters’’ and that Superintendent John Farrelly had stressed that the gardaı´ were taking a ‘‘softly softly’’ approach.
During the course of his television news interview on the 9:00 p.m. News on 19th April, Mr. Reynolds reported that the subject had requested to see a doctor whom he knew and that the doctor was on his way. He reported that there was a question as to whether the gardaı´ would actually allow the doctor into the house on the grounds of safety. Superintendent Farrelly has no recollection of imparting such information to Mr. Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds has no recollection of speaking to any member of the Garda Sı´ocha´na other than Superintendent Farrelly and the Press Office. The Tribunal has not had any other evidence to suggest that John Carthy did
in fact make such a request prior to 9:00 p.m. on that evening or indeed that he made such a request at any stage. Nevertheless, it is clear that from early on the evening of 1 9th April, it was reported that John Carthy is alleged to have asked to see his doctor. Mr. Reynolds was also aware that the subject was suffering from depression, a point which was generally known to the media from an early stage. Ms Noeleen Leddy, a reporter with Shannonside Radio, a local station for the Longford area confirmed that she was aware from the night before his death, that John Carthy had depression.
Mr. Reynolds did not attend the scene on Wednesday night. He believes that he made further inquiries of Superintendent Farrelly overnight by telephone. He filed reports for morning bulletins on Radio 1 and 2FM from his home and stated that the subject was in an agitated state. Prior to attending at Abbeylara on the following day, Mr. Reynolds was not aware of the seriousness of John Carthy’s depression.
When he arrived at the scene on the morning of 20th April, Mr. Reynolds spoke with Superintendent Farrelly in the presence of other members of the media. According to Mr. Reynolds a briefing took place at which approximately ten journalists were present. Superintendent Farrelly was the principal source of information.
There is an element of doubt as to whether Superintendent Farrelly may have specifically asked Mr. Reynolds not to name John Carthy or to broadcast personal details about him, though it is to be noted that a news broadcast made by Mr. Reynolds at 6:00 p.m. on 20th April (following the fatal shooting of John Carthy) specifically confirms Superintendent Farrelly’s recollection of events. Mr. Reynolds does not dispute the evidence of the latter but he does not now recall the request being made to him. There is no doubt that the Superintendent did spell out to other members of the media at the scene (particularly those with whom he had no previous dealings) that the gardaı´were anxious that John Carthy’s identity and personal details would not be published. While Mr. Reynolds had no recollection of any discussion with Superintendent Farrelly about not naming John Carthy, he confirmed in evidence that this was never an issue between them because he, Mr. Reynolds, would have known from the outset not to name him. He gave evidence to the effect that he would have been aware that the gardaı´ would not have wanted him named because it was a volatile situation and the man was upset and agitated. Mr. Reynolds stated that he made the decision himself not to name John Carthy. Nevertheless, he accepted that Superintendent Farrelly may have said something in conversation to the effect ‘‘you know, we are not going to name him‘‘. He could not recall such conversation but agreed that perhaps the reason why he did not expressly recall it was that it would not have been a matter of great significance in his mind, as he assumed that such was the Garda approach to the case. He further confirmed that once he became aware of Mr. Carthy’s name he did not divulge it because he did not think it was appropriate to report it. According to Mr. Reynolds, it did not add to nor was it a ‘‘necessary part’’ of the story.
Despite the lack of specific recall on Superintendent Farrelly’s part, I am satisfied that the evidence indicates that he made it clear to all media persons to whom he spoke,
including Mr. Reynolds, that the garda policy and desire was that Mr. Carthy should not be named. It is evident that Mr. Reynolds understood from the beginning what the police attitude was in that matter.
During the course of his interview on Mr. Gerry Ryan’s radio show on 2FM, on the morning of 20th April Mr. Reynolds reported that there was no question of the gardaı´ storming the house. The police were adopting a ‘‘softly softly’’ approach and that ‘‘the message that the gardaı´ wanted to get across to this man was that he was safe; and that they ‘wanted to stop him from harming himself and they wanted to stop him from harming anyone else’ ’’. It was reported that no damage had been done; that the garda car had been hit the day before but that this was ‘‘no big deal’’. No one was injured and no long term damage was done. When conducting this interview, Mr. Reynolds was conscious that John Carthy may have been listening to the broadcast. He was asked by Mr. Ryan whether the man had made any demands and he replied that he had not. During the course of that interview, Mr. Ryan brought up the question of the subject of the siege being on medication for a psychiatric illness. Mr. Reynolds was taken a little bit off guard by this question and did not really wish to discuss it in any great detail with Mr. Ryan. Although the report in a newspaper that Mr. Carthy had been seen by a psychiatrist did not surprise him, it was not an area into which he wished to go. He also did not dispute the evidence of Ms Noeleen Leddy of Shannonside Radio that it was common knowledge among journalists at Abbeylara that John Carthy suffered from depression.
Mr. Niall O’Flynn
Mr. O’Flynn is a senior journalist with over 20 years experience. In evidence, he stated that a great deal of that time was spent as a reporter. He worked as a full-time journalist in both local and national newspapers. He was a news editor in a national newspaper and also has been a news editor in RTE´. He has held the position of Head of News 2FM in RTE´. Mr. O’Flynn was the series producer of the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ radio programme, from June, 1999 to May, 2000. As such, his job was to lead a team of reporters, producers, researchers, broadcast assistants and presenters in publishing and broadcasting the news and current affairs programme for two hours a day, five days a week. Mr. O’Flynn stated in evidence that the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ programme was specifically organised in such a way that everyone involved could carry out a variety of functions including interviewing. As series producer, Mr. O’Flynn had overall charge of the editorial content of the programme; he made the decision as to what should be included in the broadcast on 20th April. At that time the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ programme was part of the radio division and was separate from the news division.
It was by chance that Mr. O’Flynn attended at Abbeylara on 20th April. He had been at a funeral in Longford on the previous day and had stayed in Sligo overnight. When returning to Dublin in his car he listened to the ‘‘Pat Kenny Show’’, which on that day was presented by Mr. Rodney Rice. He heard Mr. Rice’s interview with Superintendent Farrelly. As he was near Longford, he stopped and listened to the interview. He then contacted Mr. Tom Maguire, the daytime editor of Radio 1. It was agreed that he, Mr. O’Flynn, would visit Abbeylara and cover the story. No details
were given regarding John Carthy’s identity or personal background during Superintendent Farrelly’s interview with Mr. Rice.
Mr. O’Flynn arrived at Abbeylara at approximately 11:00 a.m. He introduced himself to Superintendent Farrelly. According to Mr. O’Flynn this was one of at least three occasions that day prior to the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast that he met Superintendent Farrelly — once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once before commencement of the broadcast. With other press journalists and cameramen, he was taken to observe the scene by Superintendent Farrelly. On arrival at the scene he also met Mr. Reynolds.
Mr. Reynolds had no advance knowledge that Mr. O’Flynn would attend the scene. He had no recollection of briefing Mr. O’Flynn and indeed in his evidence stated that it was not his function to brief other reporters. He could not recollect Mr. O’Flynn asking him any particular question. There may have been a general discussion and he may have offered or volunteered information to Mr. O’Flynn but any discussion between them was of a general nature. He accepted that Mr. O’Flynn informed him of his intention to go around the locality and talk to local people and to get some background information to use as material for a feature piece.
Mr. O’Flynn stated in evidence that he discussed with Mr. Reynolds how the news programmes would report the incident, and, he stated that they had agreed to ‘‘split roles’’. Mr. O’Flynn knew that Mr. Reynolds’ priority, as correspondent, would be the 6:00 p.m. and the 9:00 p.m. news. While Mr. Reynold’s role was to contribute to news bulletins on an hourly basis, Mr. O’Flynn had six hours to prepare his programme before its deadline. Mr. Reynolds was operating on a quarter to half hour deadlines. Mr. O’Flynn, in evidence, stated that it was agreed with Mr. Reynolds that he (Mr. O’Flynn) would take one of the two cameramen who were at the scene; that he would canvass local opinion and see what he could ascertain, and that it was agreed that he would carry out interviews for both radio and television. All interviews would be available to both media. While Mr. Reynolds accepted that there was a discussion with Mr. O’Flynn regarding the latter fulfilling a complementary role, he would not classify this as involving the ‘‘splitting of roles’’.
It is clear from the evidence that Mr. Reynolds was not given any information ascertained by Mr. O’Flynn prior to 4:55 p.m., i.e., five minutes before the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ programme went on air. Mr. Reynolds indicated that he was not focusing on what Mr. O’Flynn was doing. He stated that whatever he broadcast would have been made available to Mr. O’Flynn. He presumed that Mr. O’Flynn may have listened to what he was broadcasting and may have ‘‘taken a cue from him’’.
It appears to be common case from the evidence of Mr. O’Flynn and Mr. Reynolds that there was no express discussion between them regarding the newsroom’s approach to the naming of John Carthy or the publishing of intimate personal details, prior to 4:55 p.m. It did not occur to Mr. Reynolds to discuss this, as he stated in evidence, he was too busy and Mr. O’Flynn was the senior producer and reporter who was making his own decisions for his own programme. He did not tell Mr.
O’Flynn that he was not naming John Carthy in his bulletins. He did not consider doing so, as he presumed that Mr. O’Flynn was already aware of that fact. This presumption arose from the way in which he had been broadcasting from the previous evening, but he did not make any inquiries as to whether Mr. O’Flynn had heard any news bulletin. He presumed, however, that he would have heard at least one of the broadcasts. I refer to the following question to Mr. Reynolds:
‘‘Q. Was it your view that given that you had not named John Carthy that it was reasonable for him (Mr. O’Flynn) to assume that that was the stance that was being adopted by the news room?
A. I would have said it was reasonable for him to conclude that’’.
Mr. Reynolds had no editorial responsibility or authority over what Mr. O’Flynn was doing. He understood that his colleague was going to carry out a vox pop and he presumed that those recordings would be transmitted in an edited package form. He did not believe that he informed Mr. O’Flynn of any confidential information which he received from Superintendent Farrelly (in relation to John Carthy’s depression). Mr. Reynolds did not have an expectation that Mr. O’Flynn would discuss the vox pops before they were broadcast. It was suggested to Mr. Reynolds that in those circumstances it was important that Mr. O’Flynn be absolutely aware of the information which he had regarding depression and other related details. However, Mr. Reynolds disagreed with this because he did not have editorial responsibility for what was being broadcast by Mr. O’Flynn. He thought it was obvious from the manner in which he was reporting that anybody who had listened to his reports would conclude that the person was agitated and that there was ‘‘enough information there to put two and two together’’.
The vox pop interviews
Vox pops have been described in evidence as pre-recorded interviews with people in the locality of a reported event.
It appears that without any prior discussion of any detail with Mr. Reynolds, Mr. O’Flynn set about interviewing a number of local people in the area and he conducted vox pops with, inter alia, Fr. Fitzpatrick, the parish priest; Mrs. McDowell and Mr. Heaney. He obtained information from Mrs. McDowell regarding a recently ended intimate personal relationship between Mr. Carthy and Ms X in Galway. Both Mrs. McDowell and Mr. Heaney were asked what they would say to John Carthy if they had an opportunity to speak to him. Both intimated that they would urge him to leave his house and surrender. There is some controversy over the time at which these interviews with Fr. Fitzpatrick, Mrs. McDowell and Mr. Heaney took place.
Mrs. McDowell resides at Renroe, Granard. On the afternoon of 20th April, she was approached by what she described as one of three people who asked her to indicate whether she knew anything about John Carthy. She was asked whether she would like to say something on the radio. She thought it might help. According to Mrs. McDowell, the man who spoke to her did not identify himself or the radio station that he was with. This person was Mr. O’Flynn. Mr. O’Flynn disputes that he did not
identify himself. Mrs. McDowell stated that she did not ask who he was. She was unaware that Mr. Carthy had a mental illness. The entire of Mrs. McDowell’s vox pop as broadcast is as follows:
Actually John Carthy, he is a really nice bloke. I picked him up a couple of times from Longford, you know, he was hitchhiking a lift and I picked him up.
He works in Longford, isn’t that right?
Yeah, he works in Longford. He is a very, very easygoing lad, he’s a smashing person.
So, no doubt, you are very surprised to hear about all this?
I am very, very shocked actually, because John, you know, he is so easygoing it is unbelievable, you know.
Did he have any problems in his life?
No, no, he was always laughing and joking, you know. What did he do for a living?
Well, when I spoke to him like, I picked him up last week on the way from Longford and he was telling me that he was working on a building site or something, you know. He was up in Mayo, he was going out with a girl in Mayo and he split up from the girl or something, because the girl — he smokes and he has a drink. The girl says if he packed in the drinking and packed in the smoking, they would get back together again.
So is it still on maybe?
Yeah, it is still on, but he was going to go back this week actually, he was going to go back up.
If you could talk to John now, have you a message for him?
Well, John, John, ifI was you, John, come out. Everybody loves you and everybody is thinking about you and worrying about you, and you are a good friend and you have lots of friends here. So, please, John, please, come out.’’
It is pertinent to point out that in fact the family had informed the gardaı´ that to raise with John Carthy his recent personal relationship with Ms X would probably upset him and would be counter-productive. They were asked not to raise that topic with him; the negotiator agreed and did not do so.
Mr. Heaney is a native of Abbeylara. He resides opposite the parish church. He knew John Carthy all of his life. He became aware of the incident at approximately 7:20 p.m. on Wednesday 1 9th April. Mr. Heaney states that he was approached, outside his house, by an RTE´ reporter between 12:30 and 12:45 p.m. In evidence, he stated
that he was asked would he like to say a few words about John Carthy. He did not recollect Mr. O’Flynn introducing himself by name. However, he did recall that Mr. O’Flynn indicated that he was a reporter from RTE´. As with Mrs. McDowell, Mr. Heaney did not receive advance notice regarding the questions he might be asked. Mr. Heaney did not understand that the interview would be broadcast and he thought that it was just for the general knowledge of the reporter. He did not have any specific understanding that the broadcast might be presented in a way that it might be heard by John Carthy, but had he known that it was to be so broadcast, it would not have changed what he did or said.
The interviews were played to the Tribunal. One of the questions which Mr. Heaney was asked by Mr. O’Flynn was if he had a chance to talk to John Carthy what would he say to him. The question, as phrased by Mr. O’Flynn to Mrs. McDowell, was ‘‘if you could talk to John now, have you a message for him?’’ Mr. O’Flynn described this in evidence as a standard journalistic question. He did not concede that the interviewee might regard it as an invitation to address John Carthy if he listened to the broadcast. Having listened to the interview, and noting the content and tone of Mrs. McDowell’s response, I find it surprising that Mr. O’Flynn was not prepared to concede that Mrs. McDowell appeared to have made a direct plea to John Carthy. It is also of note that while Mr. O’Flynn had no details of the negotiations, he presumed that the ERU negotiator was attempting to communicate with the subject.
Mr. Reynolds obtained information between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. that a psychiatrist had been called by the gardaı´ and that he was on his way to the scene. He had been told by Superintendent Farrelly that there was ‘‘a psychiatrist who was known to John Carthy on the way’’. He thought that the Superintendent may also have said something about St. Loman’s hospital in Mullingar. He confirmed that he had a good working relationship with Superintendent Farrelly and that the latter was not the type of person that ‘‘I would have to drag information out of’’. The reference to the psychiatrist coming down to the scene was not information which was imparted in confidence or ‘‘off the record’’. Mr. Reynolds also confirmed that it would have been quite obvious to any person following the story (on television, radio or in the newspapers) that the person at the centre of the siege was not well and that there was something troubling him. The information regarding the psychiatrist was broadcast on Radio 1 news bulletins at 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Mr. O’Flynn did not disclose the content of the vox pops or the nature of the proposed ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ broadcast to either Mr. Reynolds or Superintendent Farrelly until two or three minutes before its commencement. At about 4:55 p.m., while passing the open door of the broadcasting caravan Mr. Reynolds by chance overheard part of Mrs. McDowell’s vox pop and learned for the first time that John Carthy’s name was being disclosed. He was surprised. He informed Mr. O’Flynn that the news room was not identifying John Carthy by name. According to Mr. Reynolds the conversation which he had with Mr. O’Flynn was in or near the satellite van. Mr. Reynolds stated to Mr. O’Flynn ‘‘you are not going to name him, are you?’’ to which Mr. O’Flynn replied, ‘‘yes, why not?’’. Mr. O’Flynn, according to Mr. Reynolds, informed him that Mr. Carthy had already been named in the newspapers, that the
package was now in Dublin and that it was too late to change it. Mr. Reynolds appears to have taken the view at that time that a different editorial decision had been taken by the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ programme.
About two minutes later, Superintendent Farrelly entered the broadcast area, as he was scheduled to be interviewed on Radio 1 shortly after the 5:00 p.m. news bulletin, and learned from Mr. O’Flynn that it was intended to name John Carthy and that a vox pop had been conducted which would be played as part of the package. (Superintendent Farrelly had no specific recollection of requesting Mr. O’Flynn not to name John Carthy at any point earlier in the day.) Superintendent Farrelly in evidence stated that he was ‘‘very annoyed’’. He asked in a surprised manner ‘‘you’re not going to name him, are you?’’, which he thought was sufficient as a protest bearing in mind that realistically the broadcast was not going to be altered and that it was going to be made. In evidence he stated that he said to Mr. O’Flynn that everybody else, including RTE´ news, was respecting the request not to broadcast his name. He gave evidence that Mr. O’Flynn’s response was that an editorial decision had been taken to broadcast it and that this was now done. Mr. O’Flynn, in evidence, stated that while Superintendent Farrelly was unhappy ‘‘and even annoyed’’ he made no attempt to dissuade him from broadcasting and that nothing of significance was said. It was intimated by Mr. O’Flynn that it was then too late to stop the broadcast.
Superintendent Farrelly was upset about what had happened. He described himself as being:
‘‘caught in a trap, that eitherI could walk away and leave it or continue on in the vein that I was doing the interviews, in the hope that it would not be a significant departure from what was happening, but then when I heard the vox pops afterwards I was quite annoyed then, on top of that.’’
Mr. O’Flynn stated in evidence that he would not have broadcast personal details about John Carthy — in particular about his recent relationship with his girl friend — if he had known the difficulties which might ensue if the subject heard the broadcast. He was unable to explain why he did not consult Superintendent Farrelly earlier, or even his colleague, Paul Reynolds, who was aware of the garda attitude regarding non-disclosure.
It is not credible that Mr. O’Flynn, the series producer of ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ from June, 1999 and a long-time experienced news and current affairs reporter who had spent six hours at the scene investigating events at Abbeylara, did not learn from any of the large number of media personnel present or from locals who he interviewed in connection with his proposed programme, that John Carthy was suffering from depression. He stated in evidence that he did not know if he knew it that day at all: ‘‘I don’t believe I did’’.
Mr. Donal Byrne
Mr. Donal Byrne was one of two news editors attached to the RTE´ news division. His job involved assigning reporters, correspondents and other journalists on a day-to-day basis in the course of preparation of news programmes. In evidence he stated
that there were two editorial conferences each day; one at 10:00 a.m. and the second at 2:30 p.m. In the context of such a meeting, he had a telephone conversation with Mr. Reynolds on the morning of 20th April. Mr. Byrne did not recollect specifically how the issue of the naming or non-naming of John Carthy arose. Nevertheless, it was his view that John Carthy should not be named. Having heard the background to the siege he felt that this was not a critical detail of the story. If it was a bank robbery, a different decision might have been taken. The incident at Abbeylara was also extensively covered on the Radio 1 ‘‘Morning Ireland‘‘ programme on 20th April. He was aware that John Carthy’s name was not disclosed in that programme. Mr. Byrne felt that the situation in Abbeylara was not conventional. There were no demands or hostages. There was no message emanating from the house. At that time he was of the view that the shots discharged by the subject were more random or in anger than with purpose. Although he had no specific knowledge of John Carthy’s medical situation, he formed the opinion that he was dealing with a troubled individual and he had his suspicions that he may have had a psychiatric illness. In evidence, he stated that Mr. Reynolds made the journalistic decision not to name John Carthy and that he concurred with him. He was unaware of any discussion between Paul Reynolds and Superintendent Farrelly. He was unaware of any requests made by the Garda Sı´ocha´na not to name John Carthy. As far as Mr. Byrne was concerned, this was an internal decision within the RTE´ news division not to name the subject. He confirmed that if a decision was to be made to reverse the original intention, that was most likely to have been made in consultation with a person in a more senior position. In any event such a decision would not have been taken without consulting the reporter at the scene. This was especially so when there was a ‘‘fairly senior correspondent’’ present.
The evidence establishes that no request of a formal nature was made directly to RTE´ headquarters not to broadcast John Carthy’s name or personal details. Had a request been made to the RTE´ news division by the garda press office, this would have been dealt with immediately and it would have been placed in large block capitals on the ‘‘Newsstar‘‘ system. He further confirmed that any division was answerable to their own chain of command. The fact that John Carthy’s name appeared in the ‘‘Irish Independent’’ newspaper that morning would not have influenced Mr. Byrne’s decision. However, it possibly crossed his mind in making such a decision that John Carthy may not have had access to the newspaper but could have had access to the broadcast media. There was no discussion about reviewing that decision during the course of the day as nothing had occurred which prompted a change. Further, there was no discussion between Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Byrne as to what the other arms of RTE´ were doing in relation to the naming of the subject.
Mr. Myles Dungan
Mr. Dungan, the presenter of the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ programme, in course of his evidence confirmed there had been a reference to a psychiatrist in the Abbeylara item at the commencement of the 5:00 p.m. news. Although a reference to ‘‘a psychiatrist known to John Carthy’’ did not ring any bells with him at that time, he
accepted that ‘‘a psychiatrist known to John Carthy was on the way’’ is very different to ‘‘a psychiatrist is on the way to assist the gardaı´’’. However, he did not analyse it in that way at the time. He had limited time and did not have editorial responsibilities. Mr. Dungan felt that if he or any of his colleagues had been aware that John Carthy was suffering from serious mental problems, that their approach would have been different. The fact that he was suffering from mental illness was not something which was communicated to Mr. Dungan by any of his colleagues.
Mr. Tom Maguire
Mr. Tom Maguire, the daytime editor of Radio 1 in April, 2000, also gave evidence. He expressed the opinion that:
‘‘Mr. O’Flynn’s broadcast was reasonable given the information he had at the particular time. But never would we want to broadcast to someone in a siege situation, or in a crime situation without full consultation with the authorities involved.’’
Should Mr. O’Flynn have broadcast personal details about John Carthy, including aspects of his intimate private life, without prior consultation with the police?
I am satisfied that the answer is an emphatic ‘‘No’’ for the following reasons:
(a) Mr. O’Flynn had been at the scene for about six and a half hours prior to the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ broadcast. He had met various media personnel there, including his colleague, Paul Reynolds, and had also interviewed numerous local people. I believe that in all probability he knew or, at the very least, ought to have ascertained that John Carthy’s protracted violent conduct may have been motivated by mental illness. It was well known among the journalists present that he was suffering from depression. They had been told so by Superintendent Farrelly at a briefing on the previous night and it emerged in the 4:00 p.m. news bulletin on RTE´ that a psychiatrist, known to John Carthy, was coming to the scene. It was also generally known that the motivation for his violent behaviour was not of a criminal nature and did not appear to have any rational explanation. Mr. O’Flynn, as a senior experienced reporter and broadcaster ought to have investigated as a matter of priority why John Carthy was patently distressed and upset; why he was behaving violently and irrationally over a protracted period since the afternoon of the previous day and why he was not responding to the garda negotiator but was persisting in his violent conduct. That apparently irrational behaviour pointed to mental illness as a likely cause of his distress. A competent experienced journalist/investigator ought to have come to that conclusion and to have borne it in mind in completing his investigations and in preparing his broadcast.
(b) He was aware of ongoing negotiations between the gardaı´and John Carthy which after 16 hours had failed to resolve the situation.
(c) Although Mr. O’Flynn maintained in evidence that he was unaware whether John Carthy had a radio in his house, I am satisfied that he was aware, or ought to have been aware, that the subject had the benefit of a radio and, therefore, might listen to the proposed ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast. This was a factor which he should have taken into account.
(d) In the light of John Carthy’s mental illness and dangerous violent behaviour, otherwise unexplained, Mr. O’Flynn should have realised the importance of not inadvertently inflaming the situation by introducing any matter which might aggravate the subject or which could potentially interfere with difficult negotiations which the gardaı´ were endeavouring to conduct with him.
(e) Bearing in mind the foregoing, it was imperative for Mr. O’Flynn, as orchestrator of the programme, to apprise Superintendent Farrelly in good time as to the content of the broadcast and the line which it was proposed to take — in particular regarding intimate personal details which it was intended to introduce through Mrs. McDowell’s vox pop. Superintendent Farrelly in turn would have consulted the scene commander and/or the negotiator and would have learned, inter alia, about the apprehension expressed by the family regarding the danger of referring to the recent termination of an intimate personal relationship which John Carthy had had with Ms X, and Detective Sergeant Jackson’s agreement with the family not to raise that topic in the course of negotiations. Mr. O’Flynn conceded in evidence that if he had had the latter information he would not have touched that particular topic in the broadcast ‘‘with a barge pole’’.
Evidence regarding John Carthy’s violent conduct at and about the time of the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast indicates a strong probability that he did not in fact hear it and, therefore, was not motivated by it to leave the house, as he did, at about 5:45 p.m. that evening. However, in considering Mr. O’Flynn’s conduct the issue is not whether John Carthy heard the broadcast and might have been motivated by it to leave the house, but whether in preparing the broadcast Mr. O’Flynn should have taken into account that it might be heard by the subject and harmful consequences could be influenced by it, not least the possible or potential fracture of, or interference with, on-going negotiations which Sergeant Jackson was endeavouring to conduct with a man who was motivated by serious mental illness. I have no doubt that the latter matters should have been taken into account by Mr. O’Flynn. He should have advised Superintendent Farrelly as to the proposed format and content of the broadcast in sufficient time for the latter to respond, having consulted the garda scene commander and/or negotiator, and thus bring about a radical restructuring of the Abbeylara item. I am satisfied that there was adequate time to do so before commencement of the broadcast. Even if there was insufficient time to devise a new structure for that item prior to 5:00 p.m. it is highly unlikely that there would have been any real difficulty in postponing it until later in a two-hour programme.
The purpose of the broadcast
Regarding the purpose of his proposed broadcast, Mr. O’Flynn emphasised in evidence that it was a story of national interest: ‘‘‘Five/Seven Live’ was there to augment the news room reports as is normal in any major news event’’. He denied that there was any ulterior motive for broadcasting Mrs. McDowell’s vox pop. He regarded it as an opportunity to portray the human side of John Carthy. It was not the purpose of the broadcast to reach and influence him — although, as the subject had the benefit of a radio, it was conceded that that possibility was present. He did not think that the broadcast would damage Garda negotiations even though he did not know what form they were taking or what decision may have been made by the negotiator regarding any particular topic. He assumed that the gardaı´ were endeavouring to establish a rapport with John Carthy. Surprisingly, Mr. O’Flynn stated in evidence that he was quite certain he had not heard the news headlines at 4:00 p.m. on Radio 1 where reference was made to the subject’s psychiatrist at the scene. He agreed that if he had been aware of that information it might have put him on further inquiries as to why a psychiatrist was required. He denied specifically that it was his objective to inject personal drama and interest into the story for the benefit of the listening public, though he did concede that he wanted to give a rounded picture and to refer to the human side of John Carthy. He rejected the suggestion made by Superintendent Farrelly in evidence that there was an element of dramatisation in the broadcast. Surprisingly, he did not regard it as a feasible proposition to advise Superintendent Farrelly in advance about the structure of his proposed ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast to ensure that it did not contain any information which might exacerbate an already difficult situation involving a man who was suffering from mental illness. It is also of interest that he does not seem to have been aware of the Gerry Ryan radio broadcast on the morning of 20th April in which reference was made to the subject being on medication for a psychiatric illness.
Mr. O’Flynn conceded that it was at the back of his mind that the proposed broadcast might be heard by John Carthy, but, on the basis of information available to him at the time, he did not think that its contents might bring anything other than comfort to the subject if he heard it. Mr. O’Flynn was asked whether he considered a person in a siege situation should be asked in a radio broadcast to surrender and come out of his house while police were down at the front line trying to do the same thing in a controlled way, and whether such a broadcast might create a serious difficulty. He responded that he had no concerns about it at the time but he reiterated that had he been aware of John Carthy’s mental illness then, there would have been a different decision taken. He also confirmed in evidence that it would have been possible, though difficult, to postpone comment on the Abbeylara incident until later in the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ programme — to facilitate, if necessary, the restructuring of that item.
Mr. O’Flynn’s conduct seems to indicate the likelihood of a desire on his part to steal a march on his news colleagues in RTE´ and the media generally by titillating his ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ audience with some details of John Carthy’s recent, unhappy love life and to suggest that a lost intimate relationship might be revived. If that was in his
mind then it would explain why he was loathe to consult with Superintendent Farrelly, or even his colleague, Paul Reynolds, in sufficient time to restructure the proposed broadcast if it had emerged that that should be done. It also explains why in six hours at Abbeylara he appears to have failed to address one of the major issues emerging from the event, i.e., what was the probable cause of John Carthy’s irrational violence and behaviour throughout the siege. However, I make no specific finding in that regard.
Criticism of TV3
It has been submitted on behalf of RTE´ that as TV3 broadcast John Carthy’s name and some personal details about him in course of their news bulletin at 5:30 p.m. on 20th April, their broadcast also should have been investigated and reviewed by the Tribunal. I do not accept that submission for two reasons. First, prior to commencement of the Media investigation the only complaint about the media made to the Tribunal relates to the ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ broadcast and, secondly, the TV3 item was first raised on behalf of RTE´ at a late stage in the hearing of the module at which TV3 were not represented. I am satisfied that it was then too late to open up any allegation against that organisation and it would have been unfair to do so in all the circumstances.
In so observing I am also conscious of and accept the evidence of Superintendent Farrelly and of Ms Leddy that once one news organisation discloses information others may feel free to do the same.
I have no doubt that in the circumstances which prevailed at Abbeylara prior to the ‘‘Five/Seven Live’’ broadcast and in particular the information available to the media about John Carthy’s mental health and the likely connection between it and his violent conduct over a protracted period (all of which was or ought to have been known to Mr. O’Flynn long before the proposed broadcast), he had a clear duty to consult with Superintendent Farrelly in good time and to radically restructure his programme in the light of the probable response he would have received from the police. The ‘‘Five/Seven Live‘‘ Abbeylara broadcast as orchestrated by Mr. O’Flynn was irresponsible and should not have happened.
SECTION B: — The Sunday Independent Published on 31st October, 2004
An article stated to be an exclusive story written by Maeve Sheehan was published on the front page and page 3 of the Sunday Independent of 31st October, 2004. It appeared under a banner headline ‘‘Dramatic New Evidence in Abbeylara Case’’ with beneath it a subsidiary headline ‘‘Abbeylara family row over land may have affected siege victim Carthy’s state of mind prior to his death’’. Beneath that are pictures of the late John Carthy and of his sister, Marie. The four-column article is continued on page 3 under another large bold type caption which reads ‘‘Dramatic
new evidence in Inquiry into Carthy death’’. Under that is a colour picture of the old Carthy home with beneath it a caption in block bold type ‘‘Family Friction?’’
The article purported to be based upon information furnished to Ms Sheehan which suggested that, inter alia, the relationship between Ms Marie Carthy and her mother with her late brother, John, was contrary to evidence in that regard adduced at the Tribunal. The article, and in particular the circumstances surrounding its publication and the source of the information from which it was derived, was the subject matter of a substantial investigation by the Tribunal.
The primary thrust of the story was derived from a written statement furnished by a woman who had terminated in February, 2000 an intimate relationship which she had had with John Carthy, consequent upon his behaviour towards her which emanated from an outbreak of his mental illness. Her statement contains the following passage: ‘‘John gave out about his sister saying his mother wanted him to sign over some of his land that he inherited from his uncle. He was outraged.’’ Ms. Sheehan’s story includes the following passages:—
‘‘The former girlfriend of John Carthy, the Abbe ylara siege victim, has given dramatic new evidence to the Barr Tribunal which gardaı´claim could shed new light on his mental state in the months before his death. The woman known as [Ms X] claims that Carthy had a dispute with his family over land and had as a result a strained relationship with rela tives.’’
‘‘Her account is regarded as hugely significant by gardaı´ because it apparently con flicts with testimony given to the Tribunal that there was no friction between Carthy and his relatives. The family could not be contacted.’’
‘‘In her new statement [Ms X] is understood to suggest that Carthy and his sister, Marie, had a dispute over a plot of land which John had inherited from a relative and was allegedly under pressure from relatives to share. His former girlfriend suggests that the alleged disagreement was a source of distress to him. This is strenuously denied by the Carthy family.’’
Further investigation and documents of title established that the land in question never had been the property of John Carthy and at all material times was owned by his mother, Rose Carthy. The Tribunal was informed that it had been her intention to leave the land to her son on her death and he had been informed of what she had in mind in that regard. Mr. Carthy’s observations to Ms X about the land may have been the product of delusion arising out of the exacerbation of his mental illness at that time (a conclusion referred to in expert testimony). What he said was untrue and had no basis in fact.
Solicitors acting for various parties, including the respective garda interests at the Tribunal, were aware of the foregoing information. Prior to publication of Ms Sheehan’s story they had been furnished with copies of the statement made by Ms X and of the title to the land in question. They were provided on a daily basis with copies of the transcript of evidence given at hearings of the Tribunal. Ms. Sheehan’s article also contained other information apparently favourable to the garda case that
the connection between the deceased and his sister, Marie, was not the close caring relationship indicated in evidence by various witnesses.
Ms Sheehan and Independent Newspapers refused to divulge the source of her information but it was conceded her informant did not tell her that the Tribunal had conclusive evidence (disclosed to the garda parties) that Mr. Carthy’s contention that he owned the land in question was untrue and that it was at all material times the property of his mother who had told her son that she intended to leave the land to him on her death. Ms Sheehan was not informed either that statements from Mrs. Carthy and her daughter had been obtained by the Tribunal (and also furnished to interested solicitors) that there had been no dispute between John Carthy and any member of his family about land.
Having reviewed the evidence and considered the matter in detail, the Tribunal came to, inter alia, the following conclusions:
(a) That the article was probably orchestrated by an unidentified member or members of the Garda Sı´ocha´na or a person or persons close to them, who deceived Ms. Sheehan and caused her to write in the Sunday Independent a story the essence of which was untrue, incomplete and misleading; the purpose of the deception being to provide information supportive of the case the gardaı´ wished to establish about what they alleged was the actual relationship between the deceased and his sister, Marie, (whose services had not been availed of by them in negotiations with Mr. Carthy). It also appeared that another purpose in orchestrating Ms Sheehan’s article probably was, contrary to the specific directions of the Tribunal, to publicise the statement made by Ms X.
Although, having regard to the content of the story, the Tribunal was satisfied about probable garda involvement in the matter of furnishing to Ms. Sheehan information on which it was based, there was insufficient evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt complicity of either garda party, or any of them, or of the garda representative bodies who instructed Mr. Murphy on behalf of his clients.
(b) In the light of the foregoing details the Tribunal did not consider that there was a likelihood of any useful purpose being served in devoting time and funds in pursuing the matter any further.
Ms. Sheehan’s story in the Sunday Independent on 31st October, 2004 is the subject matter of a detailed ruling by the Tribunal made on 1 9th November, 2004 which is contained in Appendix 7.K. A preliminary ruling made on 3rd November, 2004 is contained in Appendix 7.J.
By way of postscript, it is noted that a libel action brought by Ms Marie Carthy against Independent Newspapers arising out of Ms Sheehan’s story was settled prior to trial and an apology to the plaintiff relating to the story was published in the Sunday Independent of 21st May, 2006.