Northern Ireland

PSNI snooping report to be presented to Policing Board

Concerns grow over surveillance of journalists and lawyers

CCTV camera
The PSNI is set to present a special report to the Policing Board on the extent of surveillance carried out on journalists and lawyers (Clive Gee/PA Archive/PA Images)

The PSNI is set to present a special report to the Policing Board on the extent of surveillance carried out on journalists and lawyers.

The snooping report is the second to be presented to the watchdog in recent months.

A similar report produced in April, which was not made public, was later criticised by board members and described as “vague”.

Unusually, Thursday’s meeting will take place behind closed doors and PSNI chief constable Jon Boutcher is not expected to be in attendance.

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

A copy of the most recent report has already been circulated to board members.

It is understood the board’s human rights adviser John Wadham will also brief members.

Concerns have been raised over PSNI spy operations directed at members of the media deemed as “troublemakers”, with the force accused of trawling phone data of journalists every six months to establish if they had been in contact with police sources.

Details 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.

Earlier this week, Jon Boutcher announced a review by Angus McCullough KC into the use of surveillance against journalists, lawyers and non-governmental organisations.

He confirmed a group of experts, including former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan, and Daniel Holder, director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), will support the review.

In a statement, Mr Boutcher said there had been an “inaccurate interpretation” of documents disclosed at a recent IPT hearing.

He also said a list of eight redacted names referred to in one document are not journalists under surveillance, and “relate to a completely different matter”.

Mr Holder said that the recent clarification from Mr Boutcher does not “allay concerns” regarding the PSNI surveillance.

Meanwhile, senior officials from the National Crime Agency are also expected to provide an update on its activities to the Policing Board.

The agency has recently been urged to “voluntarily collate and publish” a breakdown of staff by religion after the British government refused to reveal the figures on “intelligence and national security grounds”.

Set up in Britain in 2013, the agency’s powers were not extended to the north until 2015 because of nationalist concerns over its accountability.