PSNI criticised over raid on journalist's home

 

Northern Ireland's chief constable has been called on to take disciplinary action against a number of police officers over a raid at the home of a Sunday Timesjournalist last year.

Police Ombudsman, Ms Nuala O'Loan, made the call in a report to the chief constable which described the operation as "poorly led and unprofessional".

The report follows the arrest in May last year of the Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times, Mr Liam Clarke, and his wife Ms Kathryn Johnston.
 
It recommended that an officer of assistant chief constable rank or above should take charge of similar future operations.

The Sunday Timesoffices were raided after it published what were said to be transcripts of secretly recorded telephone conversations between Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and senior government officials.

The search, allegedly for classified papers, followed the publication of a new edition of a biography of Mr McGuinness.

The transcripts - said to be exchanges between Mr McGuinness, former Northern Ireland secretary Ms Mo Mowlam and Downing Street chief of staff Mr Jonathan Powell - formed the basis for the update. 

It suggested Mr McGuinness was still being bugged by the security services.

A Police Ombudsman spokesman said today: "We carried out an investigation into these matters and have recommended disciplinary action against several officers."

The report found the officers "breached basic legal procedures" giving protection to journalists from "state harassment".

The officers also illegally restricted the movements of the couple during the searches and they were not allowed to make arrangements for the care of their eight-year-old daughter, said the report.

"I have recommended disciplinary action in respect of 32 separate failings by individual officers involved in the search of your house and your arrest and detention," Mrs O'Loan said in response to the complainants.

In September last year, the High Court heard the raid at the newspaper offices had been admitted as unlawful.

The search in May 2003 was invalid as a warrant obtained by police to carry out the raid was signed by a Justice of the Peace instead of a judge, the court was told.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland was ordered to pay the paper's legal costs.