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Wednesday 26 October 2016

Gardai fear phones 'audited' in mole hunt

Paranoia is said to prevail at Garda HQ - despite stringent denials

Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30

Retired Chief Justice John Murray Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins
Retired Chief Justice John Murray Photo: Arthur Carron/Collins

Senior gardai steadfastly believe their mobile work phones have been secretly inspected or 'audited' despite the Garda Press Office issuing a flat denial.

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The Garda Press Office, in an official response to a query from the Sunday Independent, said "the mobile phones of senior gardai have not been audited by the Crime and Security Section in recent weeks".

But sources insist that there is a belief among officers that the work phones of certain superintendents and even more senior ranks have been inspected.

The term used was 'audited', which usually means the records of phone calls have been sought from the service providers.

The announcement by the Government last week - that retired Chief Justice John Murray is to review the powers of An Garda Siochana, the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), the Revenue Commissioners and Defence - is said to have spread 'panic' in Garda Headquarters.

The appointment was made after it emerged tha as well as the gardai themselves, the Garda Ombudsman has also been inspecting the phone records of journalists and gardai following a complaint about reports of the December 2007 death of model Katy French. GSOC was given powers to intercept and monitor mobile phone records last year.

GSOC replied to the revelations it was also secretly 'auditing' phone records in a statement given to the Irish Times and published yesterday, though there is no specific reference to the bugging or 'auditing' of phones. Despite repeated requests from all media for a formal explanation, the agency decided to make a limited response to just one media outlet.

A spokesperson for the Garda watchdog said the Irish Times article was an opinion piece and it doesn't discuss investigations.

GSOC said: "The failure by a witness or the subject of a complaint to co-operate, as is their entitlement, does not mean the end of the investigation. GSOC, along with any investigative agency, must then consider how best to progress the investigation."

GSOC must use any lawful means provided by the legislature "to ensure that its functions are performed in an efficient and effective manner and with full fairness to all persons involved in complaints and investigations... "

In response to the query from the Sunday Independent, the Garda Press Office said: "The mobile phones of senior gardai have not been audited by the Crime and Security section in recent weeks."

The Crime and Security section and other units like the Special Branch have access to equipment that allows them to listen to and record live conversations on mobile phones.

According to one source: "They can 'turn on' phones in a matter of seconds. They have the very best equipment."

The live monitoring of phones had been previously thought to be restricted to major criminal and subversive figures. Announcing the appointment of Mr Murray to review the interception of phones, the Government said the review is: "To examine the legislative framework in respect of access by statutory bodies to communications data of journalists held by service providers, taking into account, the protection of journalistic sources, the need for statutory bodies with investigative and/or prosecution powers to have access to data in order to detect serious crime, and current best international practice in this area."

Sunday Independent

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