Northern Ireland news

Former Housing Executive employee jailed for accessing witness protection details

Charlene Pierce, who was jailed for six months for misconduct in a public office
Staff Reporter

A FORMER Housing Executive employee who accessed details of three people living on a PSNI witness protection programme has been jailed.

Judge Gordon Kerr told Charlene Pierce that her actions not only had the potential to affect the public's confidence in the scheme, but they also put the three people in fear.

The 34-year old, from Harmin Park in Newtownabbey, was told she will spend six months in prison and six months on licence upon her release, after she admitted a charge of misconduct in a public office.

Judge Kerr told Belfast Crown Court that while he accepted Pierce's offending occurred over a short period - from June 25 to 28 2014 - and there was "no evidence" the information was passed on, what she did was serious.

As a result of her actions, the three people had to be moved to new addresses at a cost of £35,000 to the public purse.

Pierce was arrested on July 28 2014 by detectives from the PSNI's Organised Crime Branch at the Housing Executive's offices in Belfast's Great Victoria Street over an "unrelated matter''.

She was employed as a claims builder for individuals seeking benefits in the Belfast area and had permission to carry out research on them - but not on the three people whose details she was in possession of.

Detectives found her handbag under her desk and inside was a document containing the personal details of the people on the witness protection scheme.

She was then re-arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Judge Kerr said the research she conducted was "deliberate, targeted and unrelated to her work".

Police also accessed the mother-of-two's Facebook account which showed she had been in contact with an individual about the three people on the PSNI witness protection scheme and this person was listed as a "friend''.

When her phone was examined, it also showed a phone number for the same person.

Her barrister accepted that it was "quite wrong" for Pierce to access the information, describing it as a "forbidden act".

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