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Northern Ireland: 'Chilling' evidence of police routinely spying on 'trouble-making' journalists

Journalists stood in from the Royal Courts of Justice holding a banner reading journalism is not a crime


Responding to explosive revelations about the routine targeting of journalists by the police in Northern Ireland made today at the Royal Courts of Justice, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Director said:


Today’s evidence is explosive. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal has received written evidence from Durham Constabulary which points to the PSNI undertaking routine, six-monthly, industrial-scale spying operations against those it considered to be ‘trouble-making journalists’.

“This is a chilling revelation that has only emerged through lengthy court proceedings.

“That such clearly unlawful acts appear to have been custom and practice in the PSNI would demonstrate a complete contempt for the principle of press freedom. There must now be full accountability.

“It is time for the Chief Constable to come clean about the extent of police spying operations against journalists, lawyers and others.

“Meanwhile, we would urge all journalists in Northern Ireland who suspect they may have been among those targeted by the PSNI for covert surveillance to lodge complaints with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal urgently.”


The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) was examining a complaint by two Northern Ireland journalists who asked it to find out whether police used intrusive surveillance powers against them. The journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, were arrested in 2018 in connection to their work investigating the 1994 Loughinisland massacre.

The pair filed a complaint with the IPT after a court in Belfast ruled the 2018 search warrants and arrests were unlawful.  Last year, it emerged that the tribunal had discovered the PSNI had previously accessed Mr McCaffrey’s phone while he was investigating potential corruption in the force. Further disclosures by the police to the Tribunal have revealed further incidents of police surveillance.

Last week, lawyers acting for the BBC also wrote to the IPT about the alleged police surveillance of one of its former journalists, Vincent Kearney, following disclosures by the PSNI to the Tribunal earlier this year.

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