Chief Constable to publish report on surveillance of journalists

PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher. Photo: NI Policing BoardPSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher. Photo: NI Policing Board
PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher. Photo: NI Policing Board
PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher has confirmed he will provide a public report on the extent of police surveillance of lawyers and journalists, the Policing Board has said.

The leadership of the board, the oversight body for the PSNI, said it had told Mr Boutcher that “damage is being done” to public confidence in policing by claims made during a tribunal hearing that surveillance was carried out on the phone data of journalists.

Board chairman Mukesh Sharma and vice chairman Brendan Mullan met Mr Boutcher on Wednesday.

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A hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in London last week heard claims that police in Northern Ireland undertook six-monthly trawls of the phone data of “troublemaker” journalists to see if they were in contact with officer sources.

It came during a hearing of a case examining allegations that investigative reporters Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were subject to unlawful covert intelligence by the police.

A Policing Board statement said: “The board chair and vice chair met with the Chief Constable and impressed upon him the damage that is being done to public confidence in policing as a result of the revelations from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

“The Chief Constable has confirmed that the board will be provided at its June meeting with a report on the extent of the surveillance of legal professionals and journalists, and that this will be made public.

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“Our human rights adviser will also have full access to all the material that informs the report in order to provide assurance on legal compliance.

“The Chief Constable shares our concerns and has advised that he intends to develop an additional review mechanism to examine and address the issues raised.”

The statement added: “Today’s meeting was constructive, and we welcome the continued commitment of the Chief Constable to openness and transparency.”

Meanwhile, two human rights organisations, Amnesty International and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), have written to the board, making a fresh call for an inquiry into the claims.

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The letter from the two organisations said the IPT case “has now revealed that covert surveillance has been deployed against journalists on multiple occasions over the period of at least a decade”.

It continues: “It now appears that there was routine surveillance of the phone data of journalists, and possible surveillance of the spouse of one journalist as well as their lawyer.

“Further, we understand that the limited disclosure of information to date by the Chief Constable to the Policing Board points to multiple instances of covert surveillance by the PSNI of journalists and lawyers.

“Public disquiet at the intrusive, covert and possibly unlawful use of surveillance powers by the PSNI is considerable.

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“The partial and drip-feed disclosure of relevant information by the PSNI, both to the IPT and to the Policing Board is further undermining public confidence in policing here.”

The two organisations urged the board to establish an inquiry under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.

Mr Boutcher has said the PSNI would co-operate fully with the IPT hearing but said he wanted to wait until that process concludes before “speculating about what might or might not have happened in the past”.