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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Jonathan McCambridge

Leadership of PSNI is not at war with itself, senior officer tells MPs

PA Wire

The leadership of the PSNI is not at war with itself following a string of controversies within the police force, a senior officer has told MPs.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd also rejected suggestions from the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that the force is not fit for purpose following the rows which led to the resignation of chief constable Simon Byrne.

The committee also heard that Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, who is currently leading the organisation, will appear at an extraordinary meeting of the Police Federation on Wednesday where rank and file officers are due to air their concerns over recent events.

Mr Byrne’s resignation was announced on Monday following a series of rows, including a data breach which revealed personal details of officers and staff, and a critical High Court judgment which said the disciplining of two officers following an arrest at a Troubles memorial event in Belfast in 2021 was unlawful.

Committee chairman Simon Hoare said: “In recent days there has been a picture painted of the PSNI of tribal and feudal War of the Roses-type antagonisms between senior officers where the buck has been passed from one to the other and scapegoating has been attempted.

“It would lead the layman to think that the PSNI is not fit for purpose.”

Mr Todd said: “I don’t recognise an organisation that is at war with itself. I don’t recognise that in the senior leadership team.

“I have sat in rooms with the rest of the executive team having very collegiate, supportive conversations on how we can lead the organisation forward through difficult times while that narrative is being played out elsewhere.”

SDLP member Claire Hanna asked the chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland Liam Kelly if he had concerns about political interference in policing, following last week’s High Court ruling which said two junior officers were disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw support for policing.

Mr Kelly said: “I would be amazed if it is not there.

“The reason we took the judicial review against the chief constable was that that is what we suspected.”

He added: “It is not just political pressure from parties within Northern Ireland, there is also information that would suggest our Department of Justice was involved in conversations, the Irish government was potentially involved in conversations as well.

“The decisions around operational matters are the sole responsibility of the organisation.

“It is ultimately their decision and they have to do that without fear and favour and manage the consequences of whatever that may be.”

Earlier in the meeting, Mr Hoare had said the Policing Board in Northern Ireland should be in no doubt that it will have to answer questions before MPs about the controversies which have rocked the PSNI.

The committee is investigating the PSNI data breach, and representatives of the Policing Board, the oversight body for the force, had been expected to appear before MPs on Tuesday.

However, the board withdrew from the hearing following Mr Byrne’s resignation.

A public session of the board scheduled for Thursday has also been cancelled.

Ms Hanna told the committee: “Could I put on record my concerns that the Policing Board aren’t here.

“I appreciate it is a choppy time, there is a lot going on, but my understanding is there hasn’t been a meeting in public since the data breach.

“The one that was scheduled for later this week isn’t occurring.

“I think it would have been useful and appropriate to have the Policing Board here as part of this session and as part of our scrutiny and as a part of people feeling that these issues are being properly scrutinised.”

The board should be in no doubt at all that they will appear before this committee to take our questions and will do so in public
— Simon Hoare, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chairman

Mr Hoare responded: “We will hear from them. Whether we have to use our right to summon witnesses, which we can, or whether they can find a time voluntarily to appear before us.

“But the board should be in no doubt at all that they will appear before this committee to take our questions and will do so in public.

“I was as disappointed as everybody that they felt unable to come today.

“I suppose the germane fact is the chief constable resigning yesterday obviously played a part, but we will hear from them.”

He added: “I wanted to put on record that anybody who steps up to the plate to be chief constable of the PSNI, it is probably the most difficult gig in policing.

“Anybody who does it deserves the recognition and thanks of this committee and the people of Northern Ireland for being prepared to step up and to try to police and to shape a modern police service to fit the current circumstances.”

Mr Byrne had faced a number of challenges in recent weeks, including the fallout from the major PSNI data breach, in which the names and details of all officers and staff members were mistakenly released online.

His troubles deepened last week when High Court judge Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that two junior officers were unlawfully disciplined for an arrest made at a Troubles commemoration event in 2021.

The judge said they had been disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing.

Sinn Fein has insisted there was no such threat.

Meanwhile, a Policing Board member has said Mr Byrne will not be paid for the remainder of his contract, which had extended until 2027.

The SDLP’s Mark H Durkan told BBC Radio Foyle that he would be paid for three months’ notice, but would not be asked to carry out his duties for that time.

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