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Chief Constable attends meeting of Policing Board

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Chief Constable of PSNI, Mr George Hamilton has today attended a meeting of the Policing Board. During the meeting, Mr Hamilton spoke about last week’s callous gun attack on officers in West Belfast and the Stormont Fresh Start agreement.

Notes from the meeting can be found below:

Attack on Police Officers

It is a week ago tonight since the callous gun attack on Police Officers on duty in West Belfast.  Only for the protective glass in their car, this Board meeting would almost certainly have been mourning the loss of two of our officers.  Two young men who are sons, husbands and one a father.  Thankfully, they will be sharing this Christmas with their families.

This attack is another chilling reminder of the threat facing my officers and staff. However, this is a threat that also puts the community in danger.  As my officers were sitting in their car just before 7pm in the evening, there were families sitting in their homes all around them. The sheer geography of the residential area meant that there were only centimetres between the bullets hitting the car or hitting a family home.

Monday’s paramilitary style shooting of two men in a pigeon club in West Belfast took place just before 4pm when children would have been on their way home from school and people making their way home from work. Far from protecting the community as some would claim, such an attack brings fear and intimidation onto our streets. The same can be said for a recent hammer attack on a man in front of his family in Bangor.

These are the hallmarks of brutality, thuggery and criminality – not some noble cause.

My officers and staff, together with the vast majority of the community in Northern Ireland, remain absolutely determined that such violence will never be successful.

My message to those who use such violence is a simple one.

The Police Service exists to protect life, to prevent crime and to bring justice. You will not deter us from doing our job. You will not push us out of communities.  And for as long as you continue to put this community in danger, we will relentlessly investigate you and put you before the Courts.

We have the support of the vast majority of the community in Northern Ireland – who do not want violence on their streets as their children walk to school.  We are also supported by our Colleagues in An Garda Siochana, who earlier this week made a significant weapons and explosives find in Monaghan.  This of course followed a seizure of bomb making components and ammunition in West Belfast on 22 November.  Our efforts will continue for as long as the threat to our community remains.

‘A Fresh Start – The Stormont Agreement’

Since we last met as a Board, we have had the publication of ‘The Fresh Start – Stormont Agreement’.  We welcome the Agreement as progress towards a safe, confident and peaceful society.

As I have outlined in my Report to the Board, there are a number of issues in the Agreement that have implications for policing and where appropriate we will play our part in supporting its implementation.

Paramilitarism and Organised Crime have a disproportionate effect on our most vulnerable communities and we recognise the clear political focus and financial commitments that this Agreement brings to tackling these issues.  I am also very grateful for the continuation of the Additional Security Funding.  This funding has been a critical element over the last four years in dealing with the SEVERE security threat and its continuation will sustain our work in protecting the community.

Board members will however not be surprised to hear me say that one area of real disappointment for the PSNI, and indeed for many grieving families, is the lack of a final agreement on dealing with the past.  As Board members are already aware, this will have significant implications for the PSNI from both a financial and public confidence perspective.

We have allocated 70 staff, including 55 investigators to our Legacy Investigations Branch.  However, Legacy Investigations Branch was never designed to be a long term solution to our past. Following the closure of HET, Legacy Investigations Branch should have provided an interim solution until the Historical Inquiries Unit was formed.

Legacy Investigations Branch’s current workload includes the Bloody Sunday Investigation; the Military Reaction Force Investigation, investigations emanating from the Boston College tapes and the On the Runs Review.  The Branch is also scoping the investigative requirements and options following the recent Section 35 (5) referrals from the Director of Public Prosecutions.  This is in addition to the 937 incomplete HET cases that will not now transfer to the HIU.

While PSNI remain committed to playing our part in dealing with the past, and in particular to supporting those families who continue to suffer as a result of the past; in the absence of significant additional financial and human resources; our ability to make progress will continue to be seriously hampered.  

55 investigators is nowhere near the 250-300 that was being discussed for the Historical Investigations Unit.

While many people have confidence in the PSNI’s commitment to investigating the past, we cannot ignore the fact that there are many others who do not.  For many people affected by the past, the perception of independence will only be possible when dealing with the past sits entirely outside the PSNI.  Our legacy related work is facing almost weekly legal challenge, related predominantly to the speed at which we can conduct this significant volume of work, and the perceived independence of the Police Service to do it. The result is that over 50% of our Legal Services Department are now working on legacy related issues.

It is also a fact that the investigators working in Legacy Investigations Branch are 55 investigators that we are not using to deal with other serious crimes of the present day.  For example, our Human Trafficking Unit currently consists of eight officers working on 16 ongoing investigations.  While in our Public Protection Branch, approximately 60 police officers are dealing with over 1200 Child Abuse Investigations and just over 30 police officers are dealing with over 300 domestic abuse investigations.

These illustrations provide just a glimpse of the challenges we are facing.  The reality is, if I put resources into one area of the business, I must take it from another.

I am absolutely not saying that the past should not be reviewed and investigated.  But, I am repeating a point that I have made on many occasions before – the public services of today, including the Police Service, are not set up or suitably resourced to respond to the demands of dealing with the past.

The Service Executive Team and I are currently considering the broader consequences of the lack of agreement on dealing with the past. Whilst the PSNI will never shirk our responsibilities; I will not allow my organisation to become the scapegoat for political failure to reach an agreement on this critical issue.

Chair, I am sure this is something that we will discuss again when we meet in the New Year.

Wish for a peaceful Christmas

It’s our last Policing Board meeting in 2015. This has been a year of immense challenge but also one in which my Service Executive Team and I take great pride. We are incredibly proud of the often untold story of the professionalism and bravery displayed by the officers and staff of the PSNI.  Whether it is the police officer who went into a river to save a life; or the call handler who kept a vulnerable gentleman on the phone until help could get to him; it is the everyday stories of keeping people safe that make our jobs worthwhile.

As Christmas draws closer, many people will be thinking of holiday time with their families. For the Police Service, Christmas is a busy period when demand is high and officers and staff will be on duty right through Christmas.  On behalf of myself, the Deputy Chief Constable and the Service Executive Team, I want to thank them for their hard work and continued commitment.

I also want to say thank you to you, Chair, and the Vice Chair and all of the Board members, for your challenge and support throughout the year. I wish you, your family and friends, a safe and peaceful Christmas.

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