Garda Station searched in connection with Barry Cowen drink driving leak
GSOC seized a phone in the hunt for the An Garda Siochana officer who leaked TD Barry Cowen’s drink-drive shame.
Investigators have searched a major Garda station as part of a probe into allegations an officer leaked news of former Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen’s drink-driving prosecution.
The Star has confirmed the search operation by independent policing watchdog the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) took place in a large station in Munster in recent days.
And the Star also learned that GSOC investigators seized a phone when they searched the station late last week.
“It is a major development in the investigation,” a source said.
“The fella being investigated is in serious bother now.”
A GSOC spokeswoman confirmed the search operation on Sunday night.
She said: “A search was carried out as part of an ongoing investigation. GSOC will not be making any further comment.”
A Garda spokesman declined to comment, and Deputy Cowen did the same when contacted.
The search and seizure operation came after Deputy Cowen made a formal complaint about how news of his 2016 arrest and conviction for drink driving emerged in June last year – shortly after he was appointed minister for agriculture.
The publicity and political row around his conviction led Taoiseach Micheal Martin to sack Mr Cowen in July.
The Laois-Offaly TD accused gardai of committing a criminal offence by leaking the details to the media – and Commissioner Drew Harris then referred the issue to GSOC, the independent policing body, who began a major investigation.
The Star previously confirmed that a sergeant in the Munster station that was searched in recent days admitted accessing confidential information on the Garda PULSE computer system on Mr Cowen’s 2016 conviction.
Each member of the force has his or own unique login details that they must use every time they access PULSE, which contains highly sensitive information about people and investigations.
The sergeant used another officer’s PULSE login instead of his own to access details of Mr Cowen’s conviction. Although he admitted accessing the case, he has strenuously denied leaking the details.
The sergeant held his hands up and admitted accessing the information when he was interviewed by GSOC investigators last year – and last week’s search of the station where he was working at the time is being regarded as a major development in the GSOC case.
It’s now possible that GSOC will seek to prosecute the sergeant in the courts under anti-leaking legislation that could see him jailed for up for five years as well as hit with a fine of up to €50,000 – if it feels it can prove he leaked the information.
Sources also said the officer, who is well regarded within the force and well known, could be sacked as part of the probe.
Mr Cowen was found to be over the limit when he was stopped driving home from the All-Ireland football final in September 2016.
He was on a provisional licence at the time and was banned from driving for three months, as well as being got with a €200 fine.
As well as investigating the leak, GSOC is also probing Mr Cowen’s claim that the official Garda record of the incident is incorrect.
“This incorrect Garda record can only have come into the possession of the newspaper through a criminal act,” he said at the height of the controversy.
“It is obvious that the disclosure of this information at this time, in flagrant breach of the criminal law and my rights under data protection law, is a disgraceful attempt to cause me the maximum personal and political harm.”
Mr Cowen has now gone back to being an active backbench TD.