Northern Ireland

Policing Board: PSNI snooping scandal report meeting to be held in private

The PSNI has carried out surveillance on journalists and lawyers

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)
A report into the PSNI surveillance of journalists and lawyers will be presented to the Policing Board next month (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)

A Policing Board meeting at which the PSNI is expected to present a report into the surveillance of journalists and legal professionals is set to be held behind closed doors.

Monthly board meetings normally include both private and open sessions, which the media can attend.

During these meetings senior PSNI officers can be asked questions by political representatives and independent members of the board.

However, it has now emerged that next month’s crunch spy report meeting will have no public session.

A spokeswoman for the board said that “due to pre-election guidance” the meeting will be in private.

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

It recently 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.

Earlier this month PSNI chief constable John Boutcher held a meeting with Policing Board chair Mukesh Sharma and vice-chair Brendan Mullan.

In a statement the pair said that Mr Boutcher confirmed that a report on the extent of surveillance will be provided next month and that this will be made public

It is not known if the planned publication of the report will now go ahead.

Details about the spying scandal 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.

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

In a statement the Policing Board said that “due to pre-election guidance, the board will have its monthly accountability session with PSNI in private and will not be able to hold its public session in June as previously scheduled.

“We recognise the levels of interest around issues being discussed at this meeting and are currently seeking advice on the most appropriate way forward which enables openness and transparency yet recognises the expectations placed on public bodies during the pre-election period,” a spokeswoman said.

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International condemned the ‘chilling revelation’
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said the planned meeting “is a key opportunity for the chief constable finally to provide answers to questions that were first asked by the board last September about the extent of police spying on journalists, lawyers and others.

“Given the level of public interest, it will be disappointing if there is further delay and the Policing Board’s public session in June is cancelled because of the Westminster election, especially since policing is a devolved matter,” he said.

Mr Corrigan added that the PSNI must “come clean” about its activities.

“It is crucial that there is no unnecessary obstruction or delay to the publication of the chief constable’s report into covert surveillance,” he said.

“The PSNI must come clean about their surveillance activities and it is the statutory role of the Policing Board to ensure that this happens.”

The PSNI was asked if the spy report will be made public, who will make it public, and if the chief constable will be in attendance at the Policing Board meeting next month but the force did not respond directly.

A spokeswoman said: “As agreed at a recent meeting with the chief constable and the chair and vice chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the Police Service of Northern Ireland will provide a report into the surveillance of legal professionals and journalists at the June board meeting.”