Irish police ombudsman accused of accessing two journalists' phone records to find source of Garda model death leaks

The Irish police ombudsman has reportedly accessed the mobile phone records of two journalists as part of a leak inquiry.

According to the Irish Times, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) obtained the phone records after the friend of a deceased model, Katy French, complained about alleged police information leaks.

Three Garda members were reportedly contacted at the end of last year by GSOC and told analysis of the Dublin-based journalists' records had established contact with them.

French died at the age of 24 in 2007 with cocaine found in her system, according to the Irish Times. It is not clear why her friend lodged a leak complaint now.

GSOC told Press Gazette it has not disclosed its interception and declined to comment on the story.

The Irish Independent reports that a journalist from its company, Independent News and Media (INM), is one of the two whose records were accessed. He expressed concern that his email records may have also been accessed.

The newspaper reported that both journalists are considering what action to take.

Another journalist in Ireland, Nicola Tallant, the investigations editor of the Sunday World, also an INM title, lodged a formal complaint in 2014 after it was claimed her phone records had been monitored by a senior garda since 2010. She is quoted as saying at the time: "I was informed (late last year) that my phone records had been sought by senior garda management over a four-year period from 2010."

She made a complaint to GSOC, which concluded a year later that it would "neither confirm nor deny" whether her records were accessed, according to the Irish Independent.

The Irish Times reports that the commission was granted powers to access phone records last year.

The case mirrors recent revelations about UK police use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to find journalists' sources.

The first case, involving the Metropolitan Police seeking the source of The Sun's Plebgate story, emerged in last September.

Forces for Essex/Kent, Suffolk, Cleveland, Scotland, Thames Valley and, most recently, Sussex are now known to have used the act to find sources by analysing journalist or source phone records.

Last February, a report from the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office (IOCCO) revealed that, in the three years to October 2014, 19 UK police forces used RIPA to obtain phone records to identify sources.

In March last year, following Press Gazette six-month Save Our Sources campaign, the law was changed so police forces are now required to obtain judicial approval before obtaining journalist/source communications data.

Shutterstock picture: Dublin

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