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Olympian Gary O'Toole on George Gibney: "He snuck into my bedroom"

Off The Ball
Off The Ball

08:54 24 Jan 2018

Swimming coach George Gibney was accused of 27 counts of indecent assault and unlawful carnal knowledge though he escaped conviction following a Supreme Court ruling in 1993.

It ruled that Gibney could appeal on the basis of the length of time that had passed since the abuse took place. Four separate victims swore affidavits which were used by The Sunday Tribune to describe Gibney as a serial abuser in December 1994.

Gary O’Toole played a central role in bringing Gibney’s case to public attention. He shared his story with OTB AM.

He recalled his own encounter with the coach during a training trip to California as a 10-year-old:

"On that trip, I got terribly homesick, as one would when you are out there for five weeks. I remember breaking down and crying, and just saying 'I want to go home.'

He comforted me, as one would expect of an adult in that kind of a situation. Then I went to bed and I felt fine, but later on that night he snuck into my bedroom, he sat on the end of the bed and said 'Are you feeling okay now?'

"I said, I feel fine. [He said] 'I brought you up this apple,' and he put this apple on the sideboard and then he said, 'Are you sure you're okay? Do you need any more comfort?.'

"I don't know what it was, but immediately alarm bells went off and I said, 'I'm fine. I think you should leave now,' and he left.

"And that was the 'in' he got the opportunity. The vulnerability was there... I liked him praising me."

Dr O'Toole told Ger Gilroy that he only realised that he had been at risk when a teammate shared his own abuse story with him in 1991 when he was 21 years old. 

He soon parted with the coach. Dr O'Toole believes that the coach tried to use his position of power and relationship with key media outlets to undermine him.

 

Gibney was part of the broadcast team covering the 1992 Olympics and he was a vocal critic of the swimmer when he failed to perform at his highest level:

"Any chance he got, he stuck the boot in. No doubt, he knew that I knew. So he tried to break me through the media."

Searching

Soon Gibney set about the task of finding other swimmers who had stories about the coach, "I started looking for people... I knew exactly where to go," he told OTB AM.

He recalled one visit to the house of a former-swimmer:

"I remember one night going to see this woman who I felt might have been one of his victims through the time. The front door opened, her husband was standing there and he looked me in the eyes and said, 'Gary O'Toole - I've been expecting you for years. She's in the kitchen.

"So, I went into the kitchen and spoke to her and he came in then eventually and he said, 'You have no idea, I've been waiting for you because eventually, I was going to go down there with a shotgun and just stick it in his mouth."

He set about gathering a group of swimmers who were willing to go to the Guards to make complaints about the coach.

Thrown out

The charges against Gibney were dropped in 1994 due to the length of the time that had passed since the alleged incidents.

Dr O’Toole remains frustrated by the dismissal of the case:

"There is no statute of limitations. They felt the duration of time between the last and the first case that he had been accused of, and at the time on which he had been brought to court; which was five or six years by the time it got to that point was too long for him to mount a defence."

Following the dismissal, Gibney relocated to Scotland, before moving to the United States where he lives today.

Gary O'Toole believes that the case against Gibney encouraged swimmers to come forward with stories about abuse which they had suffered:

"I think that what happened with the Gibney Case is that, the work that was done by the Gardai and everyone else, it made other victims stand up and say, 'Hold on a second, there is an outlet here. This is how you do it. This is what we have to do.

"If anything the Gibney [case] and the plan that I had laid out for Gibney, it seemed to prove people and to enable people to come forward and to give them the confidence that, you know, the swimming association might not believe you, but there are people out there that will believe you."

25 years later

In December 2017 there were developments in the case involving Gibney and his application for a US Green Card, when the American journalist Irvin Muchnik had a partial victory in his Freedom of Information case against the US State Department.

Muchnik was granted some access to certain documents Gibney used to gain entry to the US in the early 1990’s and subsequently on his application for citizenship.

Tomorrow OTB AM will broadcast a special interview with Muchnik.

 

Reporting by Joseph Conroy, Ger Gilroy and Niall McGrath

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