You are arrested on suspicion of something. You are at the Garda station. After your questioning you ask to speak to your solicitor in private. You have a relationship with your solicitor that is entirely confidential.
How would you feel if the Gardai were listening in?
In my months of tracking corruption stories in the news, this is one of the biggest and most under-reported stories that I have seen emerge from the Morris Tribunal. On Monday John White, who recently changed his story in relation to other allegations has now further alleged that it is a widespread practice for Gardai to bug interview rooms. Now let’s take it that he is not wholly reliable given his change of story in relation to another matter. Even with that this warrants a closer look.
I’m going to quote the story from today’s Irish Times.
The chairman, Mr Justice Frederick Morris, asked if the Letterkenny bugging was not an isolated incident and he replied: “No, not by any means.” On May 17th, 2001, his allegations of bugging appeared in a newspaper.
Mr Justice Morris asked why he made arrangements and orchestrated the fact that it was going to be published. What was his objective?
“My objective was to show this was going on,” Det Sgt White said. ” It had been kept secret for so long and I found that AC Carty was up in Donegal investigating matters but he had been entirely selective and what I told him was, if you are going to investigate everything in Donegal, why not investigate the bugging at the Garda station as well and he totally cut me short on that.
“I suppose in a way it was my way of getting back at AC Carty because he was covering it and hiding it,” he added.
Mr Justice Morris asked if there was nobody else to whom he could have brought this information. “You were aware that something basically very improper was going on, that they were bugging solicitors’ interviews and you were aware that not only was it happening in this instance but was happening, if you like, nationwide,” he said.
He said Det Sgt White could have broadcast it to the public or gone to his higher authority with this scandalous information. Why he did not report it in a formal manner to maybe the commissioner? Why did he not bring it to the notice of the people who should know about it?
“Because they all knew about it,” Det Sgt White said. Asked why he went public with it, he replied it was to get it out in the public arena and have a full investigation. He resented Mr Carty for what he had done and the improper manner in which he had treated him and set him up.
There was no point in going above Mr Carty or past him because who else could he go to, he asked. “At that stage my career was ruined anyway and was wrongfully ruined,” Det Sgt White said.
Asked if there was an element of retaliation, he said: “There was yes, but it was the truth.”
Det Sgt White said after his arrest over allegations, by Bernard Conlon, he went to see then chief superintendent Dermot Jennings in March 2001, and told him he was not guilty. Mr Jennings said he could not help.
There are lots of reasons for us not to believe John White entirely. However his allegations are enormous.
Not only does he say that bugging interview rooms is widespread, he says told the Assistant Commissioner about it and was ignored. Not just ignored, but, he alleges, that Carty covered it up and hid it, choosing not to investigate it. If the allegation were true, there are lots of reasons to believe that Carty would definately not have wanted to open that can of worms.
How many laws would bugging interview rooms break? What constitutional rights would it infringe upon? The damage to the Gardai, the Judiciary, the legal system, would be enormous.
Unfortunately it seems that no one, save perhaps the Morris Tribunal (who will limit it to Donegal) will investigate it. Reading the words of Judge Morris it seems even he was surprised that the practice was ‘nationwide’.