Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Jon Boutcher has confirmed he will provide a public report on the extent of police surveillance of lawyers and journalists, the Policing Board has said.

The leadership of the board, the oversight body for the PSNI, said it had told Mr Boutcher that “damage is being done” to public confidence in policing by claims made during a tribunal hearing that surveillance was carried out on the phone data of journalists.

However, Amnesty International said the proposed publication of the PSNI report is “wholly insufficient” to restore public confidence, adding the force cannot be “allowed to mark its own homework”.

Northern Ireland Policing Board meeting
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board Mukesh Sharma met Jon Boutcher on Wednesday (Liam McBurney/PA)

Board chairman Mukesh Sharma and vice chairman Brendan Mullan met Mr Boutcher on Wednesday.

A hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in London last week heard claims that police in Northern Ireland undertook six-monthly trawls of the phone data of “troublemaker” journalists to see if they were in contact with officer sources.

It came during a hearing of a case examining allegations that investigative reporters Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney were subject to unlawful covert intelligence by the police.

A Policing Board statement said: “The board chair and vice chair met with the Chief Constable and impressed upon him the damage that is being done to public confidence in policing as a result of the revelations from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

“The Chief Constable has confirmed that the board will be provided at its June meeting with a report on the extent of the surveillance of legal professionals and journalists, and that this will be made public.

“Our human rights adviser will also have full access to all the material that informs the report in order to provide assurance on legal compliance.

“The Chief Constable shares our concerns and has advised that he intends to develop an additional review mechanism to examine and address the issues raised.”

The statement added: “Today’s meeting was constructive, and we welcome the continued commitment of the Chief Constable to openness and transparency.”

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director, said: “Publication of this report will be an important next step on the road to full disclosure.

“But by itself, this is wholly insufficient.

“No police force can be allowed to mark its own homework.

“In Northern Ireland, that is the job of the Policing Board.”

Bill of Rights
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director, called on the Policing Board to establish an inquiry (Amnesty International/PA)

He added: “That is why Amnesty International and the Committee on the Administration of Justice are asking it to establish an inquiry under their powers under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.

“Public confidence in policing and police oversight can only be restored through full accountability for these potentially unlawful surveillance activities.”

Mr Boutcher has said the PSNI would co-operate fully with the IPT hearing but said he wanted to wait until that process concludes before “speculating about what might or might not have happened in the past”.