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Evidence to suggest tracking device was placed on private car of prison officer, report finds

The report was carried out by the Inspector of Prisons.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Konstantin Yolshin

A REPORT BY the Inspector of Prisons has found that there is evidence to support allegations that a tracking device was placed on the private car of a prison officer.

The report, carried out by the Inspector of Prisons, into allegations of surveillance and wrongdoing in the Irish Prison Service’s (IPS) Operational Support Group (OSG) was ordered by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

The report was ordered following allegations that were made by a prison staff member in November 2018 in an affidavit lodged as part of judicial review proceedings.

In the affidavit, it was alleged that a small number of personnel in the OSG carried out improper surveillance in the Midlands Prison.

It was also alleged that personnel engaged in other wrongdoing such as the deliberate monitoring of solicitor/client consultations and the placing of a tracker device on the private car of a prison officer.

Findings

The Inspector’s report, published today, has now found that €29,000 was paid by the IPS to two private security firms in 2011 and 2012 for services including covert surveillance, tracking and CCTV and that these services were procured outside normal rules.  

It also found that there is some evidence to corroborate the allegation that covert surveillance was carried out in a unit in the Midlands prison in 2011.

There is some evidence, the report found, to support the allegation that covert surveillance was carried out in an office in the Midlands prison between October 2011 and December 2012.

However, it found that there is no evidence to corroborate the allegation that solicitor/client consultations were deliberately monitored.

It was found that there is some evidence to corroborate the allegation that a tracking device was placed on the private car of a prison officer. However, the Inspector said he can’t making a finding that this allegation is true. 

Furthermore, the report found that there is some evidence to support the allegation that, in an OSG operation (in January 2012 rather than 2013 as alleged) a van containing drugs and telephones entered the Midlands Prisons and was seized by the OSG.

The only evidence to corroborate the allegation that a prisoner was recruited as an informant and supplied with a telephone, the report noted, is that there was such a prisoner in custody at that time.

Unacceptable practices’

Responding to the report, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he is “concerned at the findings”. 

I am concerned at the findings in the report that a small number of personnel in the OSG may have acted wrongfully in the past – going far beyond their remit and engaging in unacceptable practices. 

“The Inspector has made a number of recommendations and these will all be fully addressed,” Flanagan said. 

“As the allegations investigated relate to the period 2010 – 2013, a number of the issues arising have already been addressed; for example, the need for clear and robust policies and procedures in relation to the investigation of deaths in custody.”

Flanagan said he has “engaged extensively” with the IPS director general Caron McCaffrey and that he has “every confidence in her leadership and capacities”. 

In light of the findings, McCaffrey has commenced a review into the functions of the OSG. She will submit a report to Flanagan within eight weeks. 

McCaffrey is also due to introduce a new Code of Ethics into the IPS late this year. 

The Irish Prison Service now has updated procedures that set out a number of responsibilities when approving a purchase order or an invoice. 

It was also noted that allegations of wrongdoing will, subject to any investigation by An Garda Síochána, be addressed by the Director General in accordance with disciplinary procedures

Responding to the report, McCaffrey said:  “It is my belief that the absolute majority of Irish Prison Service staff – be they in a prison, headquarters or in any of our support units including the Operational Support Group – do act appropriately and ethically at all times.

However, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with the events and actions of a small number of staff as outlined in the report which concerns the period 2010 – 2013.
I am determined that all appropriate steps are now taken to implement in full the recommendations made by the Inspector in her report and to ensure that all staff in our Service act within their authority and in an ethical manner at all times.

The Prison Officers Association has also said it is “deeply concerned” over the contents of the report and believe the matters raised “require further examination and analysis”. 

During the course of the investigation, the IPS brought evidence to the attention of the Inspector that may have been unlawfully obtained or have involved the unauthorised collection of personal data.

The Inspector asked the IPS to provide this evidence to An Garda Síochána and the Data Protection Commission, which it has now done. 

The Inspector considers that An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner are the appropriate bodies to carry out any further investigations into this material.

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