Two Garda brothers and a civil servant mole illegally passed confidential information on to a private detective agency, a court heard today.
Private investigation firm Eamonn O Mordha & Co Ltd and one of its directors Ann Moore (aged 61), also known as Ann O Mordha, were each fined €10,000 after entering guilty pleas to 12 counts of breaching the Data Protection Act while 25 other charges for the same offence were withdrawn.
The two gardaí, who were her nephews, and a civil servant friend who worked in the Department of Social Protection also provided her with private personal information on men and women.
Charges against Ann Moore’s husband Edward Moore (aged 61), also known as Eamonn O Mordha or Eddie Moore, were dropped.
Mrs Moore and the private detective agency which is run from her home at Limetree Avenue, in Portmarnock, Co. Dublin admitted disclosing unlawfully obtained information on 12 people to insurance firms in 2015 and 2016.
The prosecution came following a probe into the private detective sector by Tony Delaney, head of the Special Investigations Unit at the office of the Data Protection Commissioner.
Mr Delaney told Judge John Brennan at Dublin District Court that he received reports written by the defendant company in 2014 and 2015 for insurance firms. He said it seemed that criminal records and social welfare records may have been accessed in preparing the reports.
On July 6 last, he went to the Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park in Dublin and asked to see access logs on the Garda Pulse computer system. He said the computer records have an “audit trail” showing which garda accessed records.
Two serving Garda brothers based in Edenderry in Co. Offaly and at Kevin Street station in Dublin had accessed records of people of interest to the private detective firm. He wrote to a Garda Assistant Commissioner to inform him of a breach of the Data Protection Act and that he wanted to interview the two unnamed gardaí.
Mr Delaney said that on September 26 last, he interviewed one of them at Portlaoise Garda station and discovered that he was a nephew of Ann Moore.
She had contacted her garda nephew to obtain information in relation to individuals or vehicle registration numbers. The garda told Mr Delaney that his aunt looked for the information out of concern for the safety of her husband while carrying out surveillance.
His brother was interviewed two days later in a station in Dublin and gave the same explanation.
Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Mr Delaney agreed with prosecution solicitor Claire McQuillan that there was a simultaneous investigation into access to social welfare records. He obtained more of the private detective agency’s reports and in July and August last year he submitted names from the reports to the Department of Social Protection.
It came back that 59 out of the 89 names had their records accessed by a woman working in the department, however, the prosecution was only dealing with 12 of them “but,” Mr Delaney added, “the evidence is there none the less”.
In one example cited in court, the private detective firm had been asked by an insurance firm for information about a woman whose husband had died in a workplace accident which became the subject of a claim.
The detective’s report had her maiden name as well as information about who lived at her home, her two dependant children with their names and dates of birth, and if her circumstances had changed.
Mr Delaney said he was satisfied all that information came from the Department of Social Protection. Other details about a vehicle came from the Garda Pulse system.
The civil servant was interviewed and at Gandon House on Amien Street in Dublin and admitted that she had been friends with Mr and Mrs Moore for years. She told Mr Delaney that Ann Moore asked her to search for information and she would give it to her the next time they met. She accepted that she had accessed the records on foot of request from Ann Moore.
Mr Delaney was also given access to the private detective agency during his investigation.
Solicitor Clare McQuillan said the offence at district level can result in a fine of €3,000 per charge.
Defence counsel Brian Gageby asked the court to note that the defendants have no prior criminal convictions. Mrs Moore also worked a carer, had pleaded guilty to the charges and was prepared to pay €1,000 plus VAT towards the prosecution costs.
Judge John Brennan said it was utterly reprehensible and shocking that the information could be accessed with such ease. However, the guilty plea saved the prosecution considerable expense and he noted that Mrs Moore had been co-operative.
Convicting Mrs Moore and the firm, he ordered them each to pay fines €10,000 within six months along with the costs.