GSOC inquiry widens into source of leak about bugging concerns
Investigation into who passed on bugging report may look beyond commission staff
Mr Justice John Cooke: his report concluded there was no definitive evidence of bugging. However it could not explain an anomaly found on a landline at the GSOC’s offices and could also not categorically rule out the possibility some form of surveillance had taken place.
The investigation into the leaking of a contentious report suggesting the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was bugged is no longer confined to seven of the commission’s staff members.
GSOC has asked a barrister to carry out an independent inquiry into the source of the leak under terms of reference agreed with the Garda watchdog. The Irish Times has learned this inquiry has not ruled out the possibility the leak may have come from somebody outside the organisation. “There are not necessarily suspects outside the organisation, but the terms of reference provide for that avenue to be explored if needed; it could be an outsider,” said one source.
Another said while just seven GSOC officials were directly involved in the process that saw the UK-based Verrimus security firm carry out anti-surveillance sweeps on the offices in Dublin’s north inner city last year and the subsequent investigation, the number of staff who knew about the project was much larger.
The senior counsel engaged by the GSOC is conducting an inquiry that reaches beyond the seven. A range of electronic and hard-copy information and records have been preserved for reviews as part of the inquiry, and GSOC staff internet and phone records will be checked for any evidence of where the leak came from.
When GSOC chairman Simon O’Brien appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions in February, he stated that just seven staff would have had access to the report. His comment was seen as unusually open, because the number was so small it appeared likely the source of the leak would be identified relatively quickly.
However, sources close to Mr O’Brien said he had made the remark during a period of pressure and also in the course of being questioned for several hours at the committee. “He was right about the number of people directly involved in all that went on, but a much bigger number knew about what was happening so the leak could have come from anywhere,” said the source.
Just days before the GSOC’s appearance at the Oireachtas committee, the Sunday Times had published a report saying evidence of surveillance had emerged during a security sweep ordered by GSOC. Mr O’Brien told the committee that given the level of detail in the newspaper’s coverage, he believed the Verrimus findings had been leaked to the journalist.
The report on the bugging controversy by Mr Justice John Cooke, which was published on Tuesday night, concluded there was no definitive evidence of bugging. However it could not explain an anomaly found on a landline at the GSOC’s offices and could also not categorically rule out the possibility some form of surveillance had taken place.
The Cooke findings also questioned the accuracy of the Sunday Times report. However, it agreed with the GSOC that the newspaper had seen the Verrimus findings and said the leak, if it was from the GSOC, was a serious matter.