Northern Ireland

PSNI to provide report on extent of snooping on journalists and lawyers, Policing Board confirms

Chief Constable Jon Boutcher met with the Policing Board on Wednesday to discuss the snooping scandal

PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher is to meet with the Policing Board leadership on Wednesday
PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher. PICTURE: PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

The PSNI has agreed to provide a report on the scale of its surveillance of journalists and legal professionals to the Policing Board, after a meeting in which the chief constable was warned the snooping scandal has damaged public confidence in policing.

Jon Boutcher faced questions on Wednesday at a meeting of the Policing Board, which had been called to seek clarification about how surveillance powers were used against journalists in the north that had been deemed “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.

Journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (right) leaving the Royal Courts of Justice following a hearing over claims they were secretly monitored by police
Journalists Barry McCaffrey (left) and Trevor Birney (right) speaking to media after leaving the Royal Courts of Justice in London following an Investigatory Powers Tribunal hearing. PICTURE: PA (Victoria Jones/PA)

The details came to light at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in London, which is examining allegations that two investigative reporters - former Irish News journalist Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney - were subjected to unlawful surveillance.

It also emerged that the PSNI gave consideration to accessing the data of Mr Birney’s solicitor.

The revelations have promoted calls by Amnesty International for Stormont justice minister Naomi Long to ensure funding is available for an inquiry into the PSNI snooping.

Following Wednesday’s meeting with Mr Boutcher, the Policing Board leadership said in a statement that they “impressed upon him the damage that is being done to public confidence in policing as a result of the revelations from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal”.

“The chief constable has confirmed that the board will be provided at its June meeting with a report on the extent of the surveillance of legal professionals and journalists, and that this will be made public,” board chair Mukesh Sharma and vice-chair Brendan Mullan said.

“Our human rights advisor will also have full access to all the material that informs the report in order to provide assurance on legal compliance.”

They said Mr Boutcher “shares our concerns and has advised that he intends to develop an additional review mechanism to examine and address the issues raised”.

“Today’s meeting was constructive, and we welcome the continued commitment of the chief constable to openness and transparency,” they added.