Sunday 28 December 2014

Report left matters unexplained, claims garda watchdog

Published 12/06/2014 | 02:30

GSOC's Simon O'Brien
GSOC's Simon O'Brien

The chairman of the Garda Ombudsman has refused to rule out possible security threats in the watchdog's headquarters despite the findings of an independent review of the bugging scandal.

Simon O'Brien insisted there were "still outstanding matters" that had not been explained following the publication of retired judge John Cooke's report.

Mr Cooke's four-month investigation found no evidence to support claims that the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was targeted by garda surveillance.

Despite calls for his resignation, Mr O'Brien said he was "absolutely not" going to resign as chairman.

He said the controversial security inspections, which contributed to the resignations of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and the Garda Commissioner Martin, were "professional" and a "proportionate" reaction to the perceived threats.

GSOC, meanwhile, refused to comment on its claim that there was an attempt to "influence the evidence" of an expert from UK security firm Verrimus.

Verrimus yesterday said it was still considering the report's findings and issued a statement on Twitter.

However, the company did not comment on claims that influence had been exerted on one of its staff. "We can't comment at the moment as operators involved are deployed with limited communication and haven't yet had the chance to read the report," Verrimus said.

"We will make a comment as soon as possible," the company added.

A Verrimus representative submitted transcripts of conversations he had with an Irish businessman after Mr Cooke's inquiry was announced.

Mr Cooke noted there was a desire on the part of the businessman to "convey concerns" that had been expressed to him by gardai and members of the Irish Army.

Lawyers representing GSOC claimed this was an attempt to influence evidence given to the inquiry.

Anomoly

When asked by the Irish Independent if they would be taking further action on this claim, a GSOC spokeswoman said: "No comment."

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said GSOC "under statute" should have informed her predecessor Alan Shatter when the security sweep was first carried out last year.

GSOC chairman Mr O'Brien yesterday said he regretted not informing Mr Shatter but felt he acted in a "professional" and "appropriate" manner.

The bugging scandal played a significant role in Mr Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan's decision to step down from their positions.

Mr O'Brien said he engaged Verrimus because of the firm's technical expertise in surveillance.

Following the initial inspection, Mr O'Brien said he was "more surprised than anyone" to find three threats had been identified.

Two of the security anomalies – a WiFi device connecting to an outside network and a fake 3G mobile signal allegedly intercepting calls – were completely dismissed by Judge Cooke.

The third anomaly, which involved a telephone in Mr O'Brien's office ringing when it was tested by Verrimus, could not be explained but there was no evidence to suggest garda surveillance.

Mr O'Brien yesterday highlighted the fact Mr Cooke did not rule out a possible security breach stemming from the inspection of the telephone in his office.

"Surveillance of this nature is imprecise and those subjected to it generally don't know they have been subjected to it," he said.

He said it would have been "ridiculous" not to suspect gardai were involved when GSOC first became suspicious of surveillance activity.

But he said after the security sweep he was "comfortable" that they were not under garda surveillance.

Irish Independent

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