Northern Ireland

Call for ‘independent inquiry’ into PSNI snooping

PSNI to present spying report to Policing Board this week

PSNI spying  illustration
Assembly motion will call for independent inquiry into claims that journalists have been spied on by the PSNI PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Justice minister Naomi Long is facing calls to hold an “independent inquiry” into PSNI spying on journalists.

Stormont opposition leader Matthew O’Toole is set to make the call at the assembly on Tuesday ahead of a report on the spying being presented to the Policing Board on Thursday.

In recent months concerns have been raised over PSNI snooping operations directed at journalists deemed as “troublemakers”.

It has emerged that the PSNI had been trawling phone data of journalists every six months to establish if they had been in contact with police sources.

PSNI spying  illustration
The PSNI has been spying on journalists and legal professionals PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Details of the spying came to light through the London based Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is examining allegations that two investigative journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were subjected to unlawful surveillance.

The IPT looks at complaints from people who believe they have been the victim of unlawful covert interference by public authorities.

Other journalists, including RTÉ's Vincent Kearney, may also have been placed under surveillance.

In an Opposition Day motion, Mr O’Toole will call on the assembly to affirm “that the press cannot be expected to operate effectively if journalists can be intimidated, harassed or subject to unwarranted or unjustified surveillance”.

The SDLP assembly member will also call on Ms Long “to launch an independent inquiry into the alleged use of wiretapping and other unlawful practices against journalists”.

Speaking to the Irish News, Mr O’Toole said the surveillance revelations “have caused grave concern” since they came to light.

“A free press is a cornerstone of any democracy and there can be no justification for the PSNI’s efforts to impede their important work,” he said.

“Significant questions remain around this police operation against journalists and the SDLP opposition believes that the only way we will get answers is through an independent inquiry with the necessary powers to get to the bottom of what exactly happened here and why.

“We must also send a clear message to the PSNI that this can’t happen again in future.”

The SDLP MLA’s demand for an inquiry comes as senior PSNI figures prepare to present a special report into the snooping scandal to members of the Policing Board later this week.

Last month board chair Mukesh Sharma and vice-chair Brendan Mullan met with PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher and in a statement the pair later said the senior officer had confirmed that a report on the extent of surveillance will be made public.

Unusually, the report into the surveillance of journalists and legal professionals is set to be presented behind closed doors due to what was described as “pre-election guidance”.