Healthcare news

Suspicious activity led Belfast health trust to order 16 secret surveillance probes in four years

A total of 16 covert CCTV operations have taken place within the Belfast health trust over the past four years. Picture by Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

SUSPICIOUS activity within Northern Ireland's biggest health trust led to 16 covert operations being ordered in four years, The Irish News has learned.

Allegations of drug thefts or money being stolen are among the most common reasons for authorising such high-level probes - which should only ever be used as a "last resort", according to the Information Commissioner for Northern Ireland.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request show the Belfast health trust approved 16 requests for 'covert CCTV installation' between 2014 and 2018.

There is "no record held" of secret surveillance carried out into allegations of sectarianism at Belfast City Hospital in 2012.

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The FOI confirms a Castlereagh-based security company which installed the devices, Radio Contact, was paid a total of £2.4 million for all its work - the majority relating to the installation of visible cameras across its hospital and other sites - between 2009/10 and 2018/9.

The biggest annual bill was in 2012/13 when the company charged the trust more than £430,000 for its services.

It was during this period that the hidden cameras and a microphone were placed in the security department of the City Hospital for 181 days.

Belfast City Hospital was at the centre of a major covert operation seven years ago following allegations of sectarianism among security staff. Picture by Mal McCann

The FOI correspondence states the Belfast trust "may consider" the use of CCTV covert cameras "in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime/serious misconduct is taking place".

"It may be used as part of a specific investigation in exceptional and justifiable circumstances," it adds.

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