Reporter's phone record snooped by police

Police in Suffolk have been condemned for snooping the phone records of a journalist to find out how he knew about an investigation they had not made public.

Mark Bulstrode approached officers at Suffolk Constabulary to ask about the reopening of a historic enquiry for his paper the East Anglian Daily Times.

The experienced journalist, who is a member of the National Union of Journalists, became aware his private phone records had been obtained after requests were made under the Data Protection Act.

Even so, it took seven months for the police to come clean about their tactics in this case, the union said yesterday.

Chris Morley, NUJ president, said: "The NUJ is deeply concerned about this outrageously underhand investigation by police into the source of a journalist.

"The obtaining of Mark Bulstrode's private phone records by Suffolk Police in secret in order to try to discover the source of information within their own ranks is appalling.

"The lengths taken, when challenged, to put off admitting they had carried out this trawl is also very concerning.

“But the casual nature in which the private records of a journalist were obtained in this case opens up the alarming prospect of police forces up and down the UK seeking to track down the sources of embarrassing stories about their own failures by probing the affairs of the journalist who raises it with them.

“It is also likely to scare off potential whistleblowers within police forces who will fear being uncovered.”

Officers are permitted to obtain such information if they believe a criminal offence has taken place.

”In this case, the fact no criminal charges followed showed the police claims about inquiring into allegations of perverting the course of justice or committing an offence of misconduct in public office is simply not credible,” Mr Morley said.

”Police forces must raise the threshold before they launch this sort of inquiry. Simply wanting to poke around private phone records to find out who journalists have been talking to is totally unacceptable.”


6th December 2006

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