Back in 2012, Maurice McCabe and John Wilson were respected police officers working in Ireland. When they found evidence that traffic offences were being wiped and interfered with, they did what their job demanded of them – they reported it.
According to McCabe and Wilson, traffic penalty points were being waived for dubious reasons. They believed this was happening in "almost every town and village of Ireland". Among those thought to have benefited were a rugby star, a judge and a national journalist, as well as some police officers.
At a time of growing financial crisis, the reportedly cancelled payments were costing taxpayers an estimated €1.5 million a year. Reckless drivers were also allegedly going unpunished. As many as seven road fatalities might have been avoided if rules against dangerous driving had been properly enforced.
Given all this, you might imagine that the two men would be praised for their courage in speaking out.
You’d be wrong.
First their complaint was ignored or dismissed – not only by their immediate superiors, but by the police commissioner, the minister for justice and the prime minister.
Then they were forced to watch on as their careers were destroyed.
Both men were denied further access to the police database, effectively making their job impossible. Police officers visited their homes unannounced or called their mobile phones while they were on leave. They were stopped and searched without warrant.
“It destroyed me, my career and my family,” McCabe later said.
Ultimately Wilson resigned from his position. McCabe remained, but says he was threatened with disciplinary action if he testified about his complaint.
As their isolation increased, they called our Irish whistleblower helpline. Taking over 200 calls a year, we offer advice and help to the victims and witnesses of corruption.
“My phone call changed the whole case,” says McCabe. “My family and I couldn't have survived this ordeal without the support we received.”
Offering guidance on coping with whistleblower retaliation, we called publicly for an investigation into their claims – and their treatment.
We stood alongside the men as government spokespeople and journalists accused them of lying, and the police commissioner branded their actions as “disgusting”.
Ultimately, both men were vindicated. As the case dominated headlines, official reports examined the claims. Analysing data released in the reports, we calculated that 9,000 traffic cases had been cancelled in questionable circumstances between 2011 and 2012 alone.
An investigative commission was established to look into further allegations and the minister for justice and police commissioner resigned and took early retirement.
Since then, the Irish government has apologised for how the two men were treated, and the Irish public crowned them “People of the Year” for their courage and bravery. Now it’s time to make sure others don’t face the same treatment.
The new ministerial and police leadership have pledged reforms to the police complaints system. We are calling on them to ensure this happens.
Maurice McCabe & John Wilson People of the Year 17, Printed Courtesy of People of the year Awards (Photographer Robbie Reynolds)