Former BBC journalist alleges police surveillance

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Vincent Kearney presented an episode of Spotlight about the Police Ombudsman’s office
By Julian O’Neill
BBC News NI crime and justice correspondent

Lawyers acting for the BBC have written to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal about the alleged police surveillance of one of its former journalists.

Vincent Kearney worked on Spotlight and presented a programme about the Police Ombudsman’s Office.

Mr Kearney believes the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) may have attempted to identify sources of information for the programme.

It was broadcast in 2011.

The BBC said “serious issues of public interest are involved”.

The BBC said issues including “effects that surveillance may have on journalistic investigations and freedoms” were involved

The tribunal is an independent judicial body which considers complaints about public bodies using covert investigative techniques.

It is understood Mr Kearney’s case emerged as part of ongoing proceedings involving two other Belfast journalists, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney.

They allege they were the subject of unlawful police surveillance.

In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “We have instructed lawyers to write to the Investigatory Powers tribunal about the alleged PSNI surveillance of telephone data linked to the work of Vincent Kearney during his employment with the BBC.

“We think serious issues of public interest are involved, including in relation to the adverse effects that surveillance may have on journalistic investigations and freedoms.”

Mr Kearney now works for RTE.

His Spotlight programme ‘The Whistleblower and the Watchdog’ examined allegations that the independence of Police Ombudsman had been compromised and that complaints about police activities, including allegations of collusion, were not investigated with sufficient rigour.

Al Hutchinson stepped down as Police Ombudsman in 2011

The programme resulted in calls for the resignation of then ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, who announced he was stepping down shortly after the broadcast.

‘Determined to find out what happened’

“I am concerned the police may have attempted to identify sources of information within the programme,” Mr Kearney said in a statement.

“Journalists must be free to carry out their work without fear that the police may secretly try to identify sources.

“I am determined to find out what happened.”

The Policing Board recently asked the PSNI for a report on the issue of journalist surveillance.

23 December 201828 February11 April

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