by Irvin Muchnick
Credit where credit is due.
Yesterday, in the most recent of my unimpressed takes on the slickly produced rehash that had been the BBC Sounds podcast series Where Is George Gibney? to date, I challenged producer Mark Horgan to find “where is Peter Banks?” He is the Irish-American swimming coach and former top Irish and American national swimming organization official who is clearly at the center of the narrative of Gibney’s flight to the United States, with assists from governments and sports institutions.
My expectation was that Horgan would not come through. However, episode 7 of the podcast, which dropped today, not only finds Banks but blows the story open, as he sputters through an interview obviously establishing — though Banks won’t admit it, claiming a memory lapse — that he was the person who engineered an American coaching job offer to Gibney. The letter, in turn, enabled the completion of the diversity lottery visa undergirding Gibney’s escape from Irish justice, and from Ireland altogether.
Bravo. This is explosive new information, not the throat-clearing and hype I had been criticizing. It bodes well for the prospect of not just more drama, but also more substance, in next week’s episode, for which a confrontation with Gibney is being promoted, and for a final two “real time” episodes, processing the findings of the series and outlining possible pressure for official action ahead.
In the new episode, Horgan notes that the American job offer letter to Gibney had been revealed, in redacted form, by my Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for material from his immigration file. Horgan proceeds to land an interview with Banks in Tampa. Banks lives in the area as a swimming coach for Tampa’s Berkeley Preparatory School — his most recent American position after being bounced by Swim Ireland as the national team coach in 2016.
Fumbling and stammering, Banks can’t help himself. He recounts meeting for the last time with Gibney in Florida in 1993, when Gibney was there to pick up his green card. This was before his indictment on 27 counts of illicit carnal knowledge of minors, and a year prior to the outrageous Irish Supreme Court ruling that quashed the charges on a technicality. So Gibney was already plotting his getaway, and Banks was his tool.
Banks says he doesn’t remember authoring or directing a job offer letter. Yet he turns right around and adds that such a hypothetical letter must have come from Blue Wave Swimming, the program he had taken over in 1989 after years as an assistant under Gibney at the Trojans team out of Newpark Comprehensive School in Blackrock, County Dublin. Banks is fooling no one but himself. His guilty conscience washes over the audio stronger than a butterfly stroke through water.
I continue to have quibbles with Horgan’s podcast, but at this point they should be registered as just that: quibbles. He doesn’t mention (at least the podcast doesn’t yet mention) Banks’s post as a director of John Leonard’s American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA), one of the most pernicious entities in the global cover-ups and cross-country movements of coaches accused (and sometimes ultimately criminally convicted) of sexual abuse of youth athletes in their charge.
Arguably, ASCA, a professional trade association, is more culpable than USA Swimming itself, the U.S. Olympic Committee national sport governing body, which is now under investigation by a federal grand jury for its cover-ups and shady insurance practices, the latter of which included a money-laundering offshore reinsurance subsidiary in Barbados.
I also don’t like the elliptical and chronologically scrambled accounts of the BBC’s stalking of Gibney and what I consider sometimes underwhelming information about his late-life lifestyle and activities. (To be fair, the podcast does now offer important new details on the coaching tree of abusers in Irish and British swimming, and on individuals who have aided and abetted Gibney in the U.S.)
And then there’s the connection of Supreme Court Justice Susan Denham and her brother, Gibney’s barrister Patrick Gageby. And there’s the coded ongoing coverage of the case by the defamation lawsuit-cowed Irish media.
But since Horgan has delivered big-time with Banks and there is more to come, it is not appropriate to dwell on what have become relatively small flaws. There are complementary Irish broadcast and American journalistic approaches and emphases. Where Is George Gibney? now has justified its own, and has the juice to move forward toward real action holding Gibney and his many institutional enablers accountable.