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NI Policing Board urged to probe surveillance claims

Several civil rights organisations in Belfast have urged the Northern Ireland policing board to begin an investigation into claims that the PSNI has been monitoring journalists.

Amnesty NI and the Committee on the Administration of Justice joined with the National Union of Journalists to make the call.

They were accompanied by journalist Barry McCaffrey, who along with a colleague Trevor Birney, are currently taking a case before a tribunal in London which adjudicates on breaches of intelligence gathering rules.

Mr McCaffrey has been placed under police surveillance on several occasions over a seven year period up to 2018, as he investigated stories linked to loyalist collusion with the security forces and alleged police corruption.

He and Mr Birney were arrested by police investigating the leak of an unredacted copy of a police ombudsman’s report which they used as the basis for a documentary into the loyalist murder of six men in a pub shooting at Loughinisland, Co Down, in June 1994.

They were exonerated by the courts which ruled the arrests illegal and were later awarded considerable damages by the PSNI.

That prompted them to lodge a complaint with the Investigative Powers Tribunal which established that they had been subject to covert surveillance.

The tribunal was forced to adjourn last week when the PSNI provided it with a large volume of material on the morning of the proposed hearing.

Campaigners say the documents provided by the PSNI show that another journalist from a different organisation had been subject to similar treatment.

The NUJ called on any members who thought they might have been placed under surveillance to get in touch for advice.

“The PSNI now needs to come clean on whether it targeted other journalists and is it still doing so. If it has not done so let them come out and say so quickly.

“The message to our members is come forward. The message to the PSNI is come clean, ” said Ian McGuinness, the union’s Irish organiser.

Amnesty (NI) said it was now incumbent on the PSNI’s oversight body, the Policing Board, to push hard for answers on the levels of PSNI surveillance.

Amnesty’s Patrick Corrigan said PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher had so far declined to answer the questions already asked.

“The revelations and disclosures in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal point to a much wider pattern of police surveillance of journalists and potentially other members of society,” Mr Corrigan said.

He said it was incumbent on the Policing Board to live up to their responsibilities to hold the police accountable.

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