Bugging interview rooms

I touched on this subject back in April, when at the time I wondered why the Irish media seemed to be asleep at the wheel when it came to the significance of the allegations John White had made concerning garda bugging of interview rooms.

Six months later, the Sunday Independent leads with a story concerning the allegations. I’ll quote the whole lot to save you registering.

SENIOR gardai sanctioned the bugging of solicitors, a priest and relatives of prisoners held in garda stations, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Details of the systematic use of eavesdropping equipment emerged following reports that a bug was installed in Letterkenny Garda Station to listen in on conversations between members of the McBrearty family, between periods of interrogation, in December 1996.

One of the detectives involved in the McBrearty case, Det Sgt John White, has made a statement to the Morris inquiry outlining the common use of such techniques.

In his statement, he names several senior gardai, retired and serving, who he said sanctioned the illicit eavesdropping. White’s claims have been supported by other detectives who say the practice was carried out regularly in major investigations.

He said the quipment was a “Nagra” recorder, manufactured by the Swiss electronics firm, Kudelski, which specialises in security and listening equipment. White said that the buggings were most commonly used in cases where the prisoners were not serious criminals or subversives. Professional criminals and IRA members were least likely to discuss matters of interest to investigators.

He also claimed he came across bugging about 50 to 60 times during his period of service in the Murder Squad between 1980 and 1994.

He said the secret information was never discussed at major investigation conferences, where between 20 and 40 gardai might be present, but at “mini conferences” of between five and 10 officers.

The most common question at these meetings, he said, was, “Anything from the tapes?” and the answer would usually be given by a detective superintendent or detective inspector.

He had never heard the detectives raise concerns about the practice. He said there was little cognizance given to conversations with solicitors whose advice to clients – in what should under law have been private – invariably involved advice not to answer any more questions.

He said: “I cannot remember any earth-shattering revelations being made by prisoners to their solicitors.”

White, who was acquitted last July of planting a shotgun in a travellers’ site in Donegal, in 2001, but who was subsequently criticised in three reports of the Morris tribunal, said that during his time as a detective the process of bugging prisoners’ private conversation was called “boxing”.

He said: “Officers and members, including myself, believed that we were entitled to use covert recording equipment in the struggle against crimes of murder and other very serious crimes.

“It was not a case of being entitled to do so by law, but on the assumption that the equipment would not harm any innocent person and that the persons being listened to were either persons who had committed a very serious criminal act or were murderers.

“It was quite clear that this system could not have operated for so many years without the knowledge and approval of the most senior authority within An Garda Siochana. This system of covert recording was being used as a tool by detectives, in an effort to solve crime, and while it could not be regarded by any member of An Garda Siochana as being lawful, it was not regarded by those aware of its existence as being morally wrong.

“I heard many times the phrase ‘to box them’ being used by officers and members in relation to the covert recording of meetings between prisoners and other prisoners, and between prisoners and visitors. This was a reference to placing the respective parties together in a room that was bugged.”

Det Sgt White also said that while he had no documentation on the recordings, there should be in existence – “if they have not been destroyed” – written requests from divisional and district offices for the listening equipment.

He said these forms were known as A 85 and A 13.

He said that two retired detectives stated that they had reported allegations of recordings to their authorities, the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, and the Morris tribunal, in writing. They informed me that their superiors had not taken the matter seriously and that they believed a proper investigation was not undertaken and that the matter was being covered up by the Garda Authorities.”

Why it took six months I don’t know. But the seriousness of White’s allegations are the same now as they were six months ago. The mini-module relating to the bugging will begin at either the end of November or early in the new year. The repurcussions of it could be huge. The tribunal has listed the following people to appear in relation to the bugging mini-module:

Detective Sergeant John White

Garda John Dooley

John Fitzgerald

Joseph Shelly

John McGinley

Sergeant Joseph Costello

Denis Fitzpatrick

Detective Chief Superintendent Austin McNally

Paudge Dorrian

Garda Tina Fowley

James Sweeney

John Costello

Superintendent James Paul Sharpe