GSOC: Simon O'Brien resigns as chairman of Irish police watchdog

Garda ombudsman office Image copyright RTE
Image caption Simon O'Brien's tenure as chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission was marked by a high-profile controversy over unproven allegations its Dublin headquarters had been bugged

The Irish police watchdog, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), has confirmed that its chairman Simon O'Brien is to step down from his post.

It said Mr O'Brien is leaving to take up a role as chief executive of the UK's Pensions Ombudsman Service.

His resignation takes effect on 30 January.

Mr O'Brien led GSOC for three years and during his tenure the commission was the focus of a high-profile controversy over claims the office had been bugged.

The allegations were not proved, following a judge-led investigation.

In his resignation statement, Mr O'Brien said: "I have been in Ireland for five years in two posts. This is a significant opportunity and I am looking forward to the new challenge.

"The new post will bring me back home to be with my wife and young family in London."

GSOC was established by the Irish government in 2007 to provide independent oversight of policing in Ireland.

Its main role is to investigate complaints about police officers' conduct.

'Electronic surveillance'

The bugging claims first emerged in the Sunday Times in February 2013, when the paper reported that a hi-tech surveillance operation had been uncovered at GSOC's Dublin headquarters some months earlier.

GSOC had called in a British security consultancy in 2012 to check its offices for bugs, and the firm found "three electronic anomalies" that could not be explained.

The firm's findings suggested evidence of electronic surveillance in a meeting room and a compromised wi-fi system.

The newspaper report caused widespread controversy, with concerns raised over who would have reason to spy on the body that held Irish police officers to account.

GSOC had not informed either the police or the justice minister about the findings of the security operation, and the minister publicly criticised Mr O'Brien for failing to do so.

Independent oversight

The government appointed a high court judge to investigate the matter, and in June 2014, Judge John Cooke concluded that the available evidence did not support allegations that GSOC's offices had been bugged.

He also said it was even more unlikely that members of the police would be involved in unlawful surveillance.

The British security firm, Verrimus, said it stood over its findings that it had identified "credible threats" during the surveillance sweep.

GSOC held its own investigation in a bid to find out how the confidential findings of the surveillance sweep had been leaked to the Sunday Times.

The barrister appointed to carry out the investigation was unable to identify the source of the leak.

When the barrister's report was published last September, Mr O'Brien said he had no intention of resigning as a result of the issue.

He said his office had learned lessons from the case and wanted to move on from it.

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