3 October 2004

Mrs O'Loan said operation was "poorly led and unprofessional"

The Police Ombudsman has called for disciplinary action against a number of police officers over a raid at the home of a journalist. It follows the arrest in May last year of the Northern Ireland editor of the Sunday Times, Liam Clarke, and his wife Kathryn Johnston.

In a report to Chief Constable Hugh Orde, ombudsman Nuala O'Loan also criticised the search of the newspaper's Belfast office.

The report described the operation as "poorly led and unprofessional".

It recommended that an officer of assistant chief constable rank or above should take charge of similar future operations.

The Sunday Times offices were raided after it published what were said to be transcripts of secretly recorded telephone conversations between Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and senior government officials.

The search, allegedly for classified papers, followed the publication of a new edition of a biography of Mr McGuinness.

The transcripts - said to be exchanges between the senior Sinn Fein figure, former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam and Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell - formed the basis for the update.

It suggested Mr McGuinness was still being bugged

It suggested Mr McGuinness was still being bugged by the security services.

On Sunday, a Police Ombudsman spokesman said: "We carried out an investigation into these matters and have recommended disciplinary action against several officers."

The report found the officers "breached basic legal procedures" giving protection to journalists from "state harassment".

The officers also illegally restricted the movements of the couple during the searches and they were not allowed to make arrangements for the care of their eight-year-old daughter, said the report.

"I have recommended disciplinary action in respect of 32 separate failings by individual officers involved in the search of your house and your arrest and detention," Mrs O'Loan said in response to the complainants.

In September last year, the High Court heard the raid at the newspaper offices had been admitted as unlawful.

The search in May 2003 was invalid as a warrant obtained by police to carry out the raid was signed by a Justice of the Peace instead of a judge, the court was told.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland was ordered to pay the paper's legal costs.

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