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Police officer breached guidelines by videoing meeting with solicitor

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Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson

A complaint by a Belfast solicitor that he was unaware of being recorded by police body worn cameras has been upheld by the Police Ombudsman.

The investigation into the incident found that the police officer in question had breached guidelines, failing to disclose that recording was taking place inside a private area of the solicitor's west Belfast office.

The incident happened in January last year when the police officer was returning a sum of cash to one of the solicitor's clients.

The officer said that she recorded the exchange in order to protect both herself and the solicitor in light of a previous allegation made by the owner of the money.

The solicitor, however, complained that he should have been asked to consent to being filmed, claiming that he would have refused if asked.

In the complaint, the solicitor described the incident as being a "breakdown of trust and courtesy".

Body worn video (BWV) has been worn by the majority of officers in the PSNI since 2017. The devices can be switched on and off by the officer wearing it.

According to advice by the PSNI, use of BWV must be justified as being "proportionate, legitimate and necessary".

A Police Ombudsman investigator examined the BWV footage and found the officer had started recording before entering the solicitor's office.

Confirmation the camera was recording was only given when the solicitor noticed a red light flashing. The solicitor then asked if he could "get a copy of the body cam", before complaining that he should have been advised that the camera was recording.

The officer had told the investigators that "it should have been obvious" to the solicitor that the camera was recording but accepted she had breached the police guidelines by failing to advise him that recording was taking place. She added that the thought of informing the man "slipped her mind".

The video, which had not been viewed before it was provided to the investigation, showed the officer being brought from the law firm's reception area.

She was taken through a door labelled "private" and into an office where the sum of money was handed over and signed receipts exchanged.

The police footage captured documents sitting in different parts of the office and audio of a number of staff from the legal firm engaged in phone calls.

The Police Ombudsman investigator noted that the recording took place within "a private area of a solicitor's office where a high degree of privacy and confidentiality is expected".

They added: "In this environment, even if completely unintended, there was the potential to capture personal and legally privileged information, as well as confidential communications."

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson warned of the need for police officers to be aware of the context in which they are recording information on BWV.

"Police guidelines state that the use of body worn video should be overt and that subjects should be advised that audio and video is being recorded," she added.

Mrs Anderson recommended that the officer should be disciplined. However, the PSNI decided to address the issue by implementing measures to improve the officer's performance.

In a statement, the PSNI said: "A complaint was made to the Office of the Police Ombudsman who subsequently made a recommendation of discipline.

"However, upon reviewing this recommendation, along with the incident itself, senior officers within PSNI Discipline Branch determined that the matter be best dealt with under performance regulations."

Belfast Telegraph