Select Page

The hearing before Justice Rabinder Singh into claims that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been covertly monitoring Northern Ireland journalists resumed in London on 8 May.

Ben Jaffey, Counsel for investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney (pictured cwntre) said documents showed that the PSNI had gathered data from the phones of multiple reporters the hearing heard. He said that this was done every six months, but it was unclear when the practice began or whether it was continuing.  The aim of this information gathering by the PSNI was to identify sources for journalists’ stories that were critical of the police force. It also emerged that the PSNI accessed Birney’s wife’s data – with the aim of uncovering his sources.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) hearing also heard of further instances of the PSNI spying on McCaffrey and Birney via their electronic data and that consideration was given to accessing the data of Birney’s solicitor Niall Murphy. All of this was done to uncover McCaffrey and Birney’s confidential sources. The PSNI had already admitted unlawful surveillance of Mr McCaffrey in 2013 which was aimed at identifying a source within the PSNI concerning an allegation of corruption.

Ian McGuinness, Irish Organiser, who attended court on behalf of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said: “This is shocking and despicable behaviour by the PSNI.

“In particular, the force needs to state when it started spying on multiple journalists’ phone data, who the journalists were, how many times each journalist was spied upon and must give a commitment that it will desist from doing this ever again, simply to uncover legitimate sources for stories.”

On 2 May it was reported in the media that BBC had instructed lawyers to contact a specialist tribunal over claims one of its investigative reporters was spied on by police. The corporation said the allegations relate to former BBC journalist Vincent Kearney and his work on a 2011 Spotlight documentary that probed the independence of Northern Ireland’s police watchdog.

The claims emerged as part of a case currently being examined by the IPT into allegations that investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney working in Northern Ireland have been subject to unlawful covert surveillance by police. The move was welcomed by Amnesty International

Mr Kearney, who is the current Northern Editor at RTÉ, said he is determined to find out what happened.

Shortly afterwards the NUJ welcomed the request by the chair and vice chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board for an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable of the Police Service (PSNI) following the revelations revealed at the IPT hearing around the use of surveillance powers to spy on journalists.