Chief Constables called up before NI Policing Board

Durham Constabulary Chief Constable Mike Barton will accompany PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton at next Thursday’s Policing Board metting

Two chief constables are to appear before Northern Ireland’s Policing Board after the High Court ordered confidential material be returned to journalists.

Millions of journalistic documents and digital files seized when Durham police raided the homes and offices of documentary film-makers in Belfast last August with support from the PSNI will now be returned.

A spokesperson for the board said yesterday’s ruling “raises some serious questions around the circumstances and handling of this investigation”.

“This matter has been the subject of scrutiny by the board with a series of questions put to the chief constable on it,” they said.

“Following today’s court ruling, the Chief Constable of the PSNI has been asked to report to the board on its implications and he will be accompanied by the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary.”

SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly MLA said that journalistic freedom should not be impeded by the PSNI.

She said: “The comments from the Lord Chief Justice today are a welcome vindication of the entirely appropriate actions taken by Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey to protect their sources.

“They behaved in an ethical and professional manner.

“It is a matter of profound regret that the PSNI has appeared to zealously pursue these journalists for simply doing their job. Shining a light on one of the most heinous acts of our past is a public service that should be lauded, not branded as criminality. I have raised this case at the Policing Board and directly with the chief constable. I will be doing so again.

“There needs to be a serious rethink about the approach to this matter and I hope the PSNI will learn very quickly.”

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director, said that if Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey had been unsuccessful in court “then every reporter in receipt of leaked official documents would have had to live in fear of dawn raids by the police and potential prosecution under the Official Secrets Act”.

He said police had “acted outrageously” and the two police forces involved “have emerged with their reputation tarnished, and senior officers in Durham and in Belfast now have serious questions to answer”.

“It is unacceptable that the bereaved families of Loughinisland are today not an inch closer to justice than 25 years ago, when the police promised they would leave ‘no stone unturned’ in the pursuit of the killers,” he said.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it was “a victory for Trevor and Barry, for the NUJ and for press freedom”.

“The High Court has affirmed the right of journalists to protect confidential sources of information and provided clear and unambiguous directions for the appropriate manner in which the PSNI and the courts should behave in seeking to access journalistic material,” said Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary.

“There can be no short cuts when it comes to fundamental principles of human rights.”

“The attitude of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary has been profoundly disappointing and it is evident that their mission has been to frustrate at every turn the work of the two journalists.

“In a democratic society trust in the police is vital. That trust was shattered by the actions of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary.

“Today’s ruling by the High Court sets the standard for future behaviour and I hope that the incoming chief constable pays attention to the judgment.

“He will also have to address a culture of suspicion of and aggression towards reporters and photographers by elements within the PSNI.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said it was “an important legal victory”.

“The message from this case is clear. Journalists have a right to stick to the code of conduct and NUJ members have a right to affirm that right when confronted with an application for a search warrant,” he said.

“This has been a time of great stress for Trevor, Barry, their families, friends and work colleagues. At this time we think also of the Loughinisland families, who have shown such grace and dignity at all times and whose determination to seek the truth has been a source of inspiration.”

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry MLA welcomed the judgment.

He said: “The arrests and detentions of Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney led to serious public interest issues relating to freedom of the press and how journalists serve the community.

“Ultimately, the priority must be to seek justice for the loved ones of those killed in Loughinisland, as well as addressing the complex needs of all other victims in our society.”

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, who has also been involved in a legal case about the seizure of journalistic material, said it was “the right decision”.

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Steven Alexander for the original story

George Hamilton, Chief Constable, announces retirement

Chief Constable George Hamilton was appointed chief constable in June 2014. The North of Ireland’s top police officer is to retire later this year.

George Hamilton, who was appointed chief constable in June 2014, said he informed the Policing Board of his intention to leave the service in June.

A police officer for nearly 34 years, he said the greatest privilege of his career “had been to serve as chief constable”.

He said NI was a “much more peaceful and progressive society” than it was when he began his police career.

The announcement has come as a surprise to the chief constable’s senior colleagues and members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

He had been expected to accept a three-year contract extension that was offered when he met the board last week.

His decision to decline the offer followed discussions with his wife and four children over the Christmas period.

Sources say George Hamilton broke the news to his senior command team this morning and then informed the board chairman, Anne Connolly.

He told them he is retiring to spend more time with his family.

No current member of the PSNI command team can apply to succeed Mr Hamilton as chief constable.

The current eligibility criteria states that an applicant must have completed a national senior command course and served at least two years in a police force outside Northern Ireland.

After joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) – the predecessor of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) – in 1985, he worked in a number of roles including a stint as assistant chief constable of Strathclyde Police.

“I am privileged and humbled to have led the dedicated officers and staff of the PSNI and to have worked in partnership with so many people committed to public service in Northern Ireland and beyond,” said Mr Hamilton.

He said that there were challenges in the months and years ahead “but we have overcome greater challenges in the past and there is nothing that cannot be achieved if the police, our partners and the community continue to work together”.

Image caption
Anne Connolly says the board needs to put in place a process for the appointment of a new chief constable

Anne Connolly, chairwoman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said the board respected Mr Hamilton’s decision not to accept a three-year contract extension last week.

She said recruitment for a new chief constable would be considered at a meeting on 6 February.

The Policing Board was established as part of policing reforms after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which helped bring about the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

George Hamilton’s police CV
1985: Joined Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
1994: Promoted to RUC inspector and seconded to England for development programmes
1997: Returned to uniform patrol in NI and subsequently worked on Patten policing reforms
2002: Worked as a senior detective in PSNI’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID)
2007: Appointed district commander for south and east Belfast
2009: Joined Strathclyde Police as assistant chief constable
2011: Returned to NI as PSNI assistant chief constable
2014: Appointed PSNI’s fourth chief constable

With many thanks to: BBCNI for the original story

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