The phone records of a respected Belfast-based journalist were secretly searched by the PSNI police during an investigation into allegations against the force.
The spying scandal is now being investigated by the powerful Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is based in London.
It was reported a complaint was made to the IPT by investigative journalists Barry McCaffrey (pictured, right) and Trevor Birney (left) in 2019 after they were arrested the previous year over a documentary into collusion between British forces and a loyalist murder gang.
The powerful tribunal considers complaints from people who believe they have been the victim of unlawful interference by public authorities or British military intelligence.
Mr. McCaffrey learned earlier this year that the PSNI accessed his phone records without permission in 2013 after he researched allegations that a senior PSNI member had received payments from a private company.
During his investigation for ‘The Detail’ website, Mr. McCaffrey contacted the PSNI press office, who asked the website to suppress the story until an investigation is completed, but did not provide a timescale.
In 2014 an internal ‘investigation’ took place into bribery and misconduct in public office in relation to a PSNI vehicles supply contract. Two PSNI members were among nine people who were interviewed as part of the process, but no charges were ever brought.
It has now emerged that Mr. McCaffrey was the centre of an undercover PSNI operation, which included his phone records being secretly harvested.
It is thought other investigations into the PSNI may also have been the target of snooping operations carried out by state agencies. It emerged separately this week that former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr is under criminal investigation for “serious sexual offences”.
Mr. McCaffrey spoke of his surprise at learning his phone data has been searched.
“To find out that the PSNI accessed my phone data in 2013 without my permission was a shocking discovery for Trevor and myself,” he said.
“I had no idea until very recently that my phone had been compromised in this way.
“The PSNI knew full well that there was a legal process it should have used if it wanted access to journalistic material.
“It deliberately chose to ignore this and treat me as a criminal suspect. Journalism is not a crime.”