An investigation into the mass recording of telephone calls in Garda stations for decades has found the practice was not lawful, but no criminal cases were significantly affected by the practice.
However, the Fennelly Commission report also finds gardaí involved in the investigation of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case "were prepared to contemplate altering, modifying or suppressing evidence that did not assist them in furthering their belief that Mr (Ian) Bailey murdered Madame Toscan du Plantier”, though the commission found no evidence such actions were actually carried out.
The report also said one of its most surprising findings is the "almost total ignorance at the highest levels of the force" of the recording of main station telephones at garda divisional stations outside Dublin since 1995/96.
The report examines the fact phone tapping was widespread for at least three decades; was initially focused on 999 calls and bomb threats; Attorney General Máire Whelan’s performance; and that since 2008 records have been kept centrally at garda headquarters.
The commission, headed by Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, was set up in 2014 to investigate telephone recording systems to record calls other than those to 999.
The commission was examining material from a large number of garda stations over several years.
The Fennelly Commission report which has been published today says continuing the recording of calls should now be put into legislation.
The Attorney General Máire Whelan has also come in for criticism for the level of alarm raised about the issue when it was uncovered in 2014.
“It is of serious concern that, in the small sample of recorded calls available to the Commission, evidence is disclosed that members of An Garda Síochána involved in the investigation, including the officer responsible for preparing the report for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, were prepared to contemplate altering, modifying or suppressing evidence that did not assist them in furthering their belief that Mr (Ian) Bailey murdered Madame Toscan du Plantier”, though the commission found no evidence such actions were actually carried out.
The Commission identified three Garda stations at which solicitor/client calls either were or were likely to have been recorded between 1995 and 2013: Bandon, Waterford and Wexford. In each case, the report says the evidence indicates that these recordings occurred inadvertently, as a result of recording certain specific non-999 lines, for reasons unrelated to the capturing of solicitor/client calls.
The Commission has found no evidence of any recorded solicitor/client call being accessed deliberately for its content. Nor is there any evidence of any such call being downloaded or copied for any purpose.
However, the report adds that “none of these conclusions should be taken as an exoneration of the existence of a system that allowed the possibility of recording and accessing solicitor/client calls without the knowledge of the parties concerned.
“Although it is possible to say that, in general, no abuse of this system occurred, it is not possible absolutely to rule out improper use in any specific case. No such case has been referred to the Commission.”</div><div><br></div><div>For further coverage of the Fennelly Report, click here.</div>