Northern Ireland

Undercover PSNI unit monitored sexual behaviour of officers

Anti-Corruption Unit linked to surveilance of journalists, lawyers and others

The PSNI has said it is investigating two deaths in Newry
(Niall Carson/PA)

An undercover PSNI unit linked to the surveillance of journalists and lawyers monitored the sexual behaviour of PSNI officers, including senior members of the force.

The Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) has been linked to the surveillance of former PSNI officers, journalists, members of the legal profession and others.

Part of the Professional Standards Department, it was formed around 2007 and is attached to the PSNI’s C3 department, which was formerly known as ‘Special Branch’.

The ACU consisted of separate sections including an intelligence cell, a surveillance branch and Source Handling Unit, which has since been stood down.

Part of the ACU’s remit is to investigate potential leaks of information by PSNI personnel.

A PSNI report presented to the Policing Board earlier this month confirmed the force made 823 applications for communications data relating to journalists and lawyers over a 13-year period from 2011-2024.

In 2016 an inspection report from the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) revealed that there was no “external oversight” of ACU cases involving Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) and that the Covert Authorities Bureau (CAB), described as a unit that audits intelligence within the PSNI, was totally “unsighted” in some cases.

Another OSC inspection report produced a year later revealed that after examining PSNI ‘Contact Sheets’ some of the ACU’s work was focused on the sexual conduct of police officers including “reporting on which police officers were sleeping with whom (albeit perhaps inadvisably)” and what they were posting on social media or in photographs to a CHIS.

The author wrote that it “begged the question, for me, of whether reporting had moved too far away from actual criminality and into the sexual behaviours of individuals who have a right to these like anyone else”.

The added that there “was little evidence of exploitation offences occurring as a result of their behaviour”.

Informed sources suggest that the ACU focus on sexual conduct sparked feelings of fear within the PSNI.

They say that when sexual impropriety was identified this would have been made known to the individual, often through a third party.

“Their card would be marked, and they would know where that’s coming from,” a source said.

A source revealed that any perceived indiscretion would be “recorded somewhere in their office but not put on the system”.

It is suggested that even the PSNIs most senior officers were at times the focus of attention from the ACU.

“That meant they had a level of control of the top team, where everyone feared them,” a source said.

The PSNI has refused to confirm if a standalone computer alleged by sources to have been used by members of the ACU was examined by the CAB.

Former Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan has also referenced the existence of the computer.

A forecast service from HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions allows people under state pension age to view gaps in their national insurance record and pay voluntary contributions
The PSNI has refused to confirm if a standalone computer used by an undercover unit was examined by an internal audit departments (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In a statement Deputy Chief Constable Chris Todd later said that “to suggest that a standalone computer system was in operation to avoid proper scrutiny and control is simply not the case.”

Informed sources suggest the ACU was responsible for carrying out a controversial undercover surveillance operation against two former PSNI officers more than a decade ago.

In 2014 retired Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland was one of a number of men questioned in connection with the awarding of vehicle contracts.

West Yorkshire Chief Constable, and ex-PSNI officer Mark Gilmore, was also a focus of the probe.

Neither man was ever prosecuted.

Details of the surveillance of media members and lawyers came to light through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which is examining allegations that two investigative journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were subjected to unlawful surveillance.