Editor who had phone seized by gardaí did not ‘come down in the last shower’

Emmett Corcoran took case against force after device seized as part of Strokestown inquiry

A file photograph of Emmett Corcoran, editor of the Democrat newspaper. Photograph: Collins Courts.

A file photograph of Emmett Corcoran, editor of the Democrat newspaper. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

Gardaí had indicated they would “not peek” if an editor claiming journalistic privilege over his seized mobile phone unlocked it so that his personal and business data on it could be downloaded, the High Court has been told.

Emmett Corcoran, editor of the Roscommon-based Democrat, will not agree to such a means of his accessing the data, quite apart from the assumption in such a proposal he had “come down in the last shower”, his barrister Morgan Shelley said.

Mr Shelley was updating the court on developments in proceedings by his client against the Garda Commissioner and Director of Public Prosecutions after Mr Corcoran had to hand his phone over to gardaí when they arrived at his Strokestown home last week with a search warrant.

They were investigating an incident in Strokestown last December when a number of vehicles were set on fire in the wake of an incident in which a house was repossessed.

Mr Corcoran was one of the first people on the scene and recorded video footage of the incident which was circulated online. He said he decided to hand the phone over after gardaí threatened to search his home, his grandparents’ home and his office in Strokestown.

Tipped off

Shortly after the Strokestown arson incident, gardaí asked him who had tipped him off about the fire but he refused to identify his source, claiming journalistic privilege.

He obtained an injunction later that day preventing gardai from going through his phone data and the case was adjourned after the gardaí agreed not to access the phone pending further order. The phone, however, remained in their possession.

The court heard Mr Corcoran was looking for his phone back because it effectively held his “office” as well as personal information. Gardaí had agreed to look at whether his data could be downloaded and given to Mr Corcoran while they held the phone.

When the case returned before Mr Justice Seamus Noonan on Friday, Mr Shelley said the access to data matter had been canvassed with the gardaí but their response was that would be facilitated “if he unlocks the phone”.

Extract

Gardaí had said they would then extract the information, keep it in a safe format and give a copy to Mr Corcoran. Aside from the assumption his client had “come down in the last shower”, this was not acceptable to Mr Corcoran, counsel said.

Mr Justice Noonan remarked: “So they will not peek at it”.

Mr Shelley said his side believed they could be facilitated by having the data downloaded by an independent third party.

Frank Callanan SC, for the Garda Commissioner, said it was a matter of “chain of custody” of the phone and was not as straightforward as was being suggested.

His client was prepared to continue the undertaking not to go through the phone until the case comes back on an agreed date between the parties.

Mr Justice Noonan adjourned the case to May 7th.