Cleveland Police abused spying powers to grab call records of Mirror journalist in hunt for media sources - Press Gazette

Cleveland Police abused spying powers to grab call records of Mirror journalist in hunt for media sources

Daily Mirror journalist Jeremy Armstrong has been confirmed as the latest journalist targeted by police using spying powers to track down sources of information leaks.

Armstrong’s number was included as part of an application to access phone records made under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by Cleveland Police in 2012.

A hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) last week revealed police had used the powers in an attempt to find the source of three leaks to the Northern Echo in April that year.

Despite being included in the data grab, Armstrong is not named on RIPA documents, seen by Press Gazette.

Instead his number can be seen next to the name of Echo reporter Chris Webber, one of three Echo journalists targeted by the force alongside Julia Breen and Graeme Hetherington.

Armstrong was known to Cleveland Police for having written a number of stories about the force, including coverage of its chief constable, Sean Price, who was sacked for gross misconduct.

The force has said it can “neither confirm nor deny” its actions in regards to the use of RIPA. It is not known whether it deliberately targeted Armstrong or used the wrong number by accident.

The Mirror is understood to be taking legal advice on whether to bring its own case to the IPT, which rules on whether police have abused human rights in their use of surveillance powers.

On Thursday last week, a panel of judges indicated they would find Cleveland Police to have acted unlawfully in grabbing the phone records of former officers (and media sources) Mark Dias and Steve Matthews.

The force has already admitted that it unlawfully obtained landline and mobile calls going in and out for Hetherington, Breen and solicitor Alan Samuels over 17 days.

It also monitored the switchboard at the Echo, spying on every call going in and out over a 48-hour period (looking at the metadata of who called who and when).

A spokesperson for Cleveland Police said: “We have fully cooperated with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal process and await the determination of the panel in the coming weeks.”

Following the hearing, MPs have called for a “full review” into the force’s used of RIPA.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has also spoken out to condemn police use of snooping powers to target journalists.

She told the Mirror: “Communications data powers exist so the police can investigate serious crimes, not so they can prevent ­journalists holding them to account.

“In a democracy the freedom of the Press is ­incredibly important and needs to be protected not undermined.”

Cleveland Police’s data grab was carried out before Press Gazette’s campaigning helped to bring about a change in the law, meaning police now must seek judicial approval for applications to view telecoms data which could identify a journalistic source.

Prior to the introduction of the Save Our Sources amendment last year, police signed these off these request themselves.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner revealed in February 2015 that police forces around the country had used RIPA to access the call records of 82 journalists over the previous three years in order to identify their sources.

The Commissioner has never revealed which forces, or journalists, were involved.

Successive attempts by Press Gazette to find out more information about police surveillance of journalists using the Freedom of Information Act have been rebuffed by police forces around the UK.

In February 2015, the Met Police refused to answer any further FoI questions from Press Gazette about police surveillance of journalists, branding this title “vexatious”, “annoying” and “disruptive”.

Other examples of police forces known to have abused surveillance powers in order to find journalists’ sources include the following:



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