Northern Ireland

Law Society writes to members over PSNI snooping

Police report reveals up to 18 spy incidents involving members of the media and legal profession

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 Law Society has written to members over PSNI spy concerns (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)

The Law Society has written to members after a report into PSNI surveillance of journalists identified up to 18 incidents involving members of the media and legal profession.

The controversial snooping report was presented to members of the Policing Board last month.

It is understood it confirms there are fewer than 10 incidents relating to journalists and the same again for lawyers - meaning there could potentially be up to nine incidents involving members of each profession.

The report was requested by the Policing Board last year after it emerged that two journalists – Barry McCaffrey, a former Irish News reporter, and Trevor Birney – had been placed under surveillance.

Trevor Birney Barry McCaffrey outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast
Trevor Birney Barry McCaffrey (Brian Lawless/PA)

Their case is being considered by the powerful Independent Powers Tribunal (IPT) in London.

The IPT examines complaints from people who believe they have been the victim of unlawful interference by public authorities, using covert techniques, including the PSNI.

It emerged this week that a third journalist, RTÉ's Vincent Kearney may also have been snooped on when he worked for the BBC in Belfast.

In a recent letter to Law Society chief executive David Lavery said it is a “matter of significant concern to the society” and provided an update on steps taken.

Mr Lavery confirmed he has written to chief constable Jon Boutcher “requesting an explanation of these reports” and it is understood he has also provided a copy of that correspondence to justice minister Naomi Long.

He confirmed he has also contacted the Policing Board and Police Ombudsman and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

Meanwhile, Belfast firm KRW Law, which represents Mr Birney, has written to the chairman of the Policing Board, Mukesh Sharma.

The letter states that much of the firm’s work “upon matters of National Security and the Official Secrets Act” and urged the board to “endorse our request that PSNI release relevant details insofar as they may relate to the practice of KRW Law or anyone associated with it”.

A spokesman for the Law Society said the PSNI has yet to reply to its letter.

A spokesman for the PSNI said: “We have received correspondence which we will respond to in due course.”

A spokeswoman for the Police Ombudsman said “is not currently investigating any public complaints about police surveillance made by either journalists or lawyers”.