GSOC trawls journalists’ phone records in inquiry

Ombudsman used new powers to scrutinise phone records without informing reporters

The mobile phone records of two journalists have been accessed without their knowledge or consent as part of a criminal inquiry into a third party.

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) scrutinised the phone records of the Dublin-based journalists after a friend of deceased model Katy French lodged complaints about gardaí allegedly leaking information.

The commission was granted Garda-style powers last year to access phone records if required during the investigation of serious offences.

The inquiry into the complaints represents the first time the commission’s use of the new power has emerged publicly. Accessing journalists’ phone records has always been contentious and has traditionally only occurred in exceptional circumstances.


No wrongdoing

News that the power has been exercised to scrutinise two journalists’ phone records, though no wrongdoing on their part has been suggested, will cause surprise in media and policing circles. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed its concern at such “fishing expeditions”, especially since the courts had ruled members of the media were entitled to protect their sources.

“There is no allegation of wrongdoing on the part of the journalists covering this story,” said NUJ secretary Séamus Dooley. “Yet they have found their phone records scrutinised in a way which poses a threat to their relationship with sources.”

The "ability of journalists to work in the public interest" was compromised if they could not guarantee confidentiality to their sources. "The NUJ would be concerned at any form of fishing expedition by a statutory agency," said Mr Dooley. "The Supreme Court has recognised the right of journalists to protect sources of information."

GSOC declined to comment.


Ms French, a 24-year-old model, socialite and media personality from Stillorgan, south Dublin, collapsed at a house in Co Meath in December 2007 and died four days later. Cocaine was found in her system.

A friend of Ms French’s has lodged a complaint with GSOC about coverage of the case, though it was unclear why the complaints were lodged over eight years later. The ombudsman’s investigation has focused on whether members of the Garda spoke to two journalists and leaked information.

At least three Garda members were contacted late last year and informed by GSOC that a study of the journalists’ telephone records had established they had been in contact with the reporters.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times