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Saturday 25 January 2020

'Widespread abuse' of Garda phone powers, claims whistleblower

Mr Justice Peter Charleton. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Mr Justice Peter Charleton. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Niall O'Connor

A second Garda whistleblower has made serious allegations of widespread abuse by Garda intelligence of the powers surrounding the accessing of phone records, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The officer has claimed that tens of thousands of phone records were "unlawfully obtained" and that over a period of years retired gardaí routinely accessed people's records without proper authorisation.

According to correspondence seen by this newspaper, the whistleblower claims that she repeatedly raised her concerns about the processes surrounding the accessing of phone records but was ignored.

The whistleblower was attached to a highly sensitive section known as the Telephone Liaison Unit (TLU).

The TLU is tasked with approving applications for phone calls and text messages to be traced as part of Garda investigations.

There are allegations:

That tens of thousands of phone records have been "unlawfully obtained" over a period of years.

A serving garda was arrested based on false information being submitted as part of an application.

Retired members of the force would routinely obtain phone records without authorisation.

Widespread concern was raised as to why clerical officers and clerks were submitting applications in the name of superintendents.

For years, there was no written procedure in place despite the sensitivity of the work carried out by the TLU.

The whistleblower is a serving middle ranking officer who is currently on suspension from the force for unrelated matters.

The officer in question has now written to the Garda Ombudsman and the Charleton Tribunal seeking that her allegations of her unlawful phone traces are investigated.

The officer also told Judge Peter Charleton that repeated confidential reports were sent to the force's Confidential Recipient but were ignored.

The whistleblower has also come out in support of a retired officer who said he was put under major pressure to routinely bypass strict protocols to listen in on private conversations for almost a decade.

Court documents reveal how the first officer, who was based in the monitoring section in Garda Headquarters, was "bullied" and "vilified" after repeatedly raising his concerns that some of the practice was illegal.

In February, he agreed an out-of-court settlement with An Garda Síochána and the Justice Minister.

A Garda spokesman last night said the allegations will be examined by a sitting judge.

"The original allegations referred to have been referred to the designated judge under the relevant legislation and who is independent in her functions in this regard. The outcome of that process is awaited," the spokesman said.

"An Garda Síochána is committed to co-operating fully with the Disclosures Tribunal. It would appear matters you make reference to are before both the Tribunal and GSOC and on that basis we would not be in a position to comment further at this time."

Irish Independent

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