Northern Ireland

Jon Boutcher: PSNI chief fails to give assurance that journalists and lawyers have not been surveilled under his watch

PSNI has been spying on media and legal professionals

A report into the PSNI surveillance of journalists and lawyers has identified up to 18 incidents involving members of the press and legal professio (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)
The PSNI has been spying on journalists and lawyers (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)

Chief constable Jon Boutcher has been urged to clarify if any journalists or lawyers have been placed under surveillance since he took up his post last year.

The call came after the PSNI failed to provide an assurance that the practice has not taken place under Mr Boutcher’s watch.

Strong concerns have been raised over snooping operations directed at journalists deemed as “troublemakers”.

It emerged last week 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 Chief Constable Jon Boutcher is to meet with the Policing Board leadership on Wednesday
PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Boutcher, a former head of Operation Kenova, was appointed as PSNI chief constable last October.

After meeting Mr Boutcher on Wednesday, Policing Board chair Mukesh Sharma and vice-chair Brendan Mullan said Mr Boutcher will provide a report next month, which will be made public, on the extent of surveillance carried out.

Details about the spying scandal have come 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.

It also recently emerged that other journalists, including RTÉ's Vincent Kearney, may also have been snooped on.

The PSNI was asked this week if Mr Boutcher can provide an assurance that since he took up post no journalists or lawyers have been surveilled in the course of their work.

However, a spokeswoman for the PSNI did not reply directly.

In a one-line statement the spokeswoman said: “We do not discuss surveillance matters and no inference should be drawn from this.”

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International saidthis non-answer is simply not good enough”.

“There is a crisis in confidence in policing as a result of PSNI spying activities against journalists and lawyers,” he said.

“The Chief Constable and the Policing Board must now act to restore that confidence.”

Mr Corrigan said police need to provide assurance that the spying has stopped.

“Not only do we need full transparency and accountability for potentially unlawful use of covert surveillance in the recent past, we also need cast-iron guarantees that these spying practices have stopped,” he said.

“The Policing Board must set up an inquiry, not only to investigate what has been going on, but to ensure those days and those bad practices have ended.”

Mr Corrigan said the Policing Board needs to ensure that all snooping has ended.

“The Policing Board must set up an inquiry, not only to investigate what has been going on, but to ensure those days and those bad practices have ended,” he said.

Daniel Holder of the Committee on the Administration of Justice said: “Spying on journalists or lawyers just for doing their jobs is never going to be lawful, given that you would expect the PSNI therefore to be able to confirm such practices are no longer continuing.

“The same goes for NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) like ours engaged in lawful expressive activity, there would be no lawful basis for spying on us.

“We need a full inquiry into what has taken place and reforms that would stop it from happening again.”