Lisburn Castlereagh Council to review policy amid concerns over ex mayor’s phone being wiped

An image of a person holding a mobile phone.
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A Northern Ireland council is to review its IT policy amid transparency concerns over the wiping of a former DUP mayor’s phone.

The council has been urged to be a “beacon of openness” in the wake of the UK Covid inquiry hearing some Stormont ministers’ phones had been wiped, despite head of the Civil Service Jayne Brady stating, “explicit and clear” instructions had been given not to do so.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request has shown Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council (LCCC) currently has 525 mobile phone connections up for renewal in June 2025. The 40 elected members can choose to either have a council owned phone or a paid for sim.

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Lisburn North independent cllr, Gary Hynds said: “Following on from revelations of the Covid inquiry, we now have all sorts of things that will hopefully be looked into a lot further.

“There are the missing phones, passwords, laptops, minutes and active wiping of devices, by both elected individuals and the civil service. So, this prompted me to check in to our own policy in this regard.

“I have been informed that phones are wiped if elected members lose their seat. Information is not saved anywhere in terms of texts, Whatsapps, calls made. Is this the same for officials in this council? That’s one question.”

He added: “An individual has let me know about a FoI request, regarding a former mayor and councillor last June and was informed that his phone was wiped in line with IT policy. So, that is within one month of councillors being elected or losing their seat.

“This concerns me greatly and I would propose a review of the policy within this council in terms of how we, not only direct members and officers to use their devices and how long all information is to be kept, but also how we handle devices when any member or officer leaves this council.

“We must be a beacon of openness, transparency and accountability, this is our duty to the electorate and the ratepayer.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has seen the FoI request dated 11 July 2023, with the council stating “former mayor Scott Carson’s phone was restored to factory settings on 2 June” 2023. This was after the councillor failed to be re-elected on 18 May 2023.

Lisburn North DUP councillor, Jonathan Craig said:”I’d Iike to ask the chief executive an interesting quesiton around that, because some of us actually buy our own phones even though they are on the council contract. So, if the phone is yours how does the council wipe it?

“I know why they wipe it, to wipe out any information that belongs to the council and I 100% agree with that. But with regards to the actual device, if it belongs to the individual leaving what remit would you (council) have to keep that device, as I don’t think you would have any legal remit, and that is the difficulty with this proposal.”

CEO David Burns responded: “This is getting beyond my technical understandings. However, I am more than happy for officers to review our circumstances and policy in relation to what is going on in the Covid inquiry and bring it back through corporate services in due course.”

The LDRS contacted the NI Local Government Association (NILGA) the council led representative body for local authorities in Northern Ireland.

A spokesperson commented: “The use of mobile phones and information on those mobile phones is a matter for each council in keeping with their own organisational policies and wider legal responsibilities.

“NILGA has no role regarding these arrangements, but is cognisant of the obligations placed on both councillors and council officers as part of the Code of Conduct for Local Government Employees (Local Government Staff Commission) and the Code of Conduct for Councillors (Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards).”

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