FOUR years ago, a police force used its special powers under surveillance laws to monitor my personal mobile phone.

Finally, last month, I got the chance to hear Cleveland Police’s reasons for seizing my phone records, and those of my colleague, Graeme Hetherington, Daily Mirror journalist Jeremy Armstrong, two police officers Mark Dias and Steve Matthews, and a solicitor.

The force admitted they had acted unlawfully on several occasions but denied breaching law on the occasion when they monitored our phones for a four-month period.

However, the panel of High Court judges hearing the evidence at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal indicated they would be finding against Cleveland Police when they deliver a written adjudication in the New Year - saying their mind was already made up.

Cleveland Police used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to look at every call in and out of my own mobile phone between January and May 2012. For two of those months, I wasn’t at work. I was on maternity leave with my third, and youngest child.

Police used heaven knows how many resources to check my phonecalls during that period. My calls to my mother when my father was seriously ill in hospital, the calls to the health visitor to ask for advice regarding my baby, the times I called my children’s school, nursery, or my friends, or the doctors’ surgery.

And as a journalist, they could have discovered all my closely-protected sources in the months I was back at work. The 48-hour monitoring of the Northern Echo switchboard is particularly intrusive for every journalist there.

These are the RIPA applications we know about. There may be more. It may not have just been calls. Could a detective have been reading our private text messages? Or checking the gps signal on our phones? These are all things which run through my head, whether or not they are true. The very fact we just don’t know makes it worse.

The source they were trying to find on my phone was the officer who leaked to us that a report existed which showed elements of institutional racism in Cleveland Police. He was angry because just the day before his call, Assistant Chief Constable Sean White had made a statement to the media saying that the force did not have a problem with racism.

I can’t imagine a story any higher in the public interest than this. The officer was a whistleblower, and risked his job to make that call because he felt the public had been lied to. That officer, I later found out, was Mark Dias, and he ended up leaving the force after admitting leaking the information.

Last week’s hearing revealed that RIPA had in fact become the first port of call for Cleveland Police’s professional standards department. They couldn’t show that they had used any other methods of trying to track down the “leaks” – three of them, including some information about a murder which another colleague, Chris Webber, had picked up by speaking to people on the streets of Middlesbrough - before putting RIPA applications through.

It smacked of a paranoid force in panic mode, trying desperately to improve its corporate reputation, which had been hammered for a long time with the arrests of the previous chief and deputy chief constable, and before that a long-running corruption inquiry. The siege mentality of pouring time and resources into preserving its reputation, instead of getting on with the job in hand, has led to this.

As one of the judges said: “Isn’t it in the public interest that the police force should have a reputation that it deserves, rather than an artificially-good reputation that it gets from brushing things under the carpet?”