Northern Ireland

Dissident republicans get police woman's lost phone

The Irish News
Image caption The paper said it chose to publish them to highlight how serious this breach of security was.

The Policing Board has asked the PSNI for a report into a newspaper story that an officer's mobile phone had been obtained by dissident republicans.

The phone had personal and sensitive information, as well as pictures of the woman and her colleagues.

Pictures from the phone were handed over to the Irish News by dissident republican group Oglaigh na hEireann.

The PSNI said: "As this was not a work mobile phone, there has been no breach of police network security."

In a statement they added: "The Irish News provided us with copies of the published images at 2.30pm yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 7 February) and we immediately began investigating this matter.

"We are investigating the circumstances of how this phone was lost.

"We expect the highest standards of our officers and are committed to identifying and investigating this matter thoroughly."

The Irish News said the phone had been lost during an arrest in west Belfast more than a year ago.

However, sources have told the BBC that it was lost while the officer was off-duty. It is understood the policewoman reported it lost at the time.

The phone contained photographs of the officer and her colleagues, on and off duty.

In an exclusive in Wednesday's paper, the photographs are reproduced - pixelated to conceal identities.

The paper said it chose to publish them to highlight how serious this breach of security was.

The mobile is also said to have contained details of police operations and text messages revealing the officer's movements, working hours and family commitments.

BBC Home Affairs correspondent Vincent Kearney said police sources disputed this, pointing out that it was a personal, not work, phone.

"It's clearly very embarrassing, but I think police will be relieved that the dissidents don't seem to have had enough information to target anybody," he added.

It is understood the officer has a young daughter. The dissidents used a recognised code name when they passed the information to the Irish News.

The group claimed the officer has been "monitored" and a decision had been made "not to target her".

"ONH will continue to exploit weaknesses where we find them," the spokesperson told the newspaper.

The photographs from the phone show the officer, both on and off duty. They include pictures taken on a PSNI speedboat during the Tall Ships visit to Belfast and one shows two male officers sitting on regal chairs in the Throne Room at Hillsborough Castle.

A month ago, the same dissident republican group targeted a Scottish soldier who was staying in north Belfast with a girlfriend.

A grenade was placed in his car but he spotted it.

Irish News editor Noel Doran said: "It is clear these photographs are authentic, extensive and represent a serious breach of security.

"We are acutely aware that the officer is believed to have come from Omagh, the home of murdered police officer Ronan Kerr.

"It is clear that this officer was in the habit of taking photographs when out and about, as many people do. But the average mobile phone is not in the hands of a serving police officer."

Mr Doran said the material from the phone had been handed over to police.

"There were clear implications surrounding the issue of whether PSNI officers on duty should carry their own mobile phones.

"Anyone who looks at the material can see how potentially serious this is," he said.

"There will have to be a full investigation about the use of mobile phones, both on and off duty."

'Handful of fanatics'

In its editorial, the Irish News said this latest breach of security was "a matter for considerable concern".

"The handful of fanatics who target police officers as they perform a vital role on behalf of the entire community can have no possible justification for their activities," the editorial reads.

"It remains essential that individual PSNI members exercise vigilance and total professionalism at all times."

Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein, said he would raise the issue at a Policing Board meeting later on Wednesday.

"The question is what has been done about this? The implication is they (police) have only found out.

"I will certainly be asking questions."

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