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Covert operation raises questions for health trust

Health authorities are facing a number of serious questions after it was revealed a covert CCTV surveillance operation was carried out following allegations of sectarianism involving security staff at Belfast City Hospital.

Although the allegations date back several years, it has only now been revealed that a secret camera and two microphones were installed in the security department's kitchen/rest room areas following reports of sectarian 'infighting' among staff.

It is clear there was a 'toxic' atmosphere in the department around 2011.

Indeed, the litany of allegations is both extensive and deeply disturbing and involved sectarian abuse and intimidating behaviour.

A probe took place in 2011 that found 'insufficient robust evidence' to take disciplinary action against those suspected of involvement in this conduct.

Senior trust management ordered the covert operation in 2012, details of which have only now come to light.

An independent investigation was commissioned by Belfast trust last year after concerns were raised by individuals who had received a tip off from a whistleblower about the surveillance.

That review has now been completed and made a range of recommendations.

However, the review team also expressed surprise at the 'informal' approach taken by the trust to the authorisation and ongoing monitoring of the covert operation.

They noted there was a lack of paperwork at every stage of the process, particularly with regard to the disposal of data at the end of the operation.

Crucially, it has emerged that the whereabouts of a laptop containing sensitive information is not known.

Belfast trust said yesterday 'efforts are being made' to locate it.

There is no doubt trust management were faced with an extremely difficult situation in 2011 and there must be a robust approach to any allegations of sectarianism in the workplace.

But instigating a covert operation that was flawed in a number of respects was not the best way to manage these serious and troubling allegations.

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