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Police officer breached guidelines in recording Belfast solicitor, ombudsman finds

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Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson

A Police Ombudsman investigation has found that a police officer breached guidelines by failing to advise a solicitor that she was recording video footage in his office.

In a complaint to the Police Ombudsman, the solicitor described the incident as a “breakdown of trust and courtesy".

The incident happened in west Belfast last January, when the police officer returned a sum of cash to one of the solicitor’s clients. The officer said 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.

However, the solicitor complained that he should have been asked to consent to being filmed, and said that if he had he would have refused.

A Police Ombudsman investigator examined the body worn video footage and found that the officer had started recording before she went into the office.

She confirmed that the camera was recording only when the solicitor noticed a red light flashing and asked: “can I get a copy of the body cam”.

He complained that he should have been advised that the camera was recording.

The police officer later told a Police Ombudsman investigator that “it should have been obvious” to the solicitor that the camera was recording, but accepted that she had breached police guidelines by failing to inform him.

She said it had slipped her mind, and added that neither she nor anyone else had viewed the footage before it was provided to the Police Ombudsman investigator.

The video showed the officer being brought from the law firm’s reception area, through a door labelled ‘private’ and into an office where the 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 members 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".

“In this environment, even if completely unintended, there was the potential to capture personal and legally privileged information, as well as confidential communications,” an ombudsman spokesperson said.

The Police Ombudsman, Maire Anderson, warned of the need for police officers to be aware of the context in which they are recording information.

“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.

Belfast Telegraph