NUJ welcomes BBC call for inquiry into police surveillance of a journalist

  • 02 May 2024

The union has welcomed the decision of the BBC to write to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal about the alleged police surveillance of former journalist Spotlight journalist Vincent Kearney

The announcement comes on the eve of World Press Freedom Day. 

Vincent Kearney worked on Spotlight and presented a programme about the police ombudsman's office in 2011. He is now northern editor at RTÉ based in Belfast. 

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant  general secretary said:  

"We want a full inquiry into this matter. Vincent Kearney is a journalist of the utmost integrity. His investigation into the Office of the Police Ombudsman's office was an outstanding example of public service journalism with significant consequences. It raised fundamental questions about the operation of an independent office and the manner in which the office was being operated. 

“Coming on the back of revelations about the unlawful surveillance of journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, the BBC's decision to pursue this issue about their former employer is very welcome. The Spotlight team's legacy of public interest journalism is built on diligent research, fearless reporting, and a rare ability to shine a light into the murky corners  in the most difficult of circumstances. 

“The fact that Vincent Kearney's programme was about the Office of the Police Ombudsman  makes the apparent decision to place him under surveillance in order to uncover sources especially disturbing.  Against the backdrop of the revelations of historic unlawful police surveillance  it is concerning that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) regularly serves production orders on journalists and media organisations, especially photographers.

“This suggests that, despite improved communications and relationships,  the leadership of the  PSNI has yet to fully comprehend the independent role of the press and the vital importance of source protection. "

A BBC spokesperson said:

"We have instructed lawyers to write to the Investigatory Powers tribunal about the alleged PSNI surveillance of telephone data linked to the work of Vincent Kearney during his employment with the BBC. We think serious issues of public interest are involved, including in relation to the adverse effects that surveillance may have on journalistic investigations and freedoms."

Vincent Keraney said:

"Journalists must be free to carry out their work without fear that the police may secretly try to identify sources and I'm determined to find out what happened." 

RTE: BBC raises alleged surveillance of journalist by police
BBC: Vincent Kearney: Claims PSNI spied on ex-BBC journalist


Return to listing