PSNI chief 'bears no ill will' after he and colleagues cleared of misconduct

Northern Ireland's police chief has said he bears no ill will against former colleagues who accused commanders of misconduct after an independent watchdog rejected the claims.

George Hamilton said the year-long investigation into his conduct had taken a personal toll but he insisted he always knew he would be vindicated.

"It is a sense of relief, but I am not surprised," he said.

Mr Hamilton, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris and a number of other senior PSNI officers have all been cleared following the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland probe.

Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire had examined how the PSNI handled a bribery inquiry into the awarding of a £15 million contract to supply vehicles to the police.

Former West Yorkshire chief constable Mark Gilmore, an ex-PSNI officer, and retired PSNI assistant chief constable Duncan McCausland were among nine people interviewed by detectives in the 2014 police investigation into bribery and misconduct in public office in relation to the vehicles supply contract.

No charges were ultimately brought against any of the men interviewed - all of whom denied any wrongdoing.

Dr Maguire subsequently received complaints from a number of those investigated in the vehicle contracts probe, the majority levelled by Mr McCausland and Mr Gilmore.

"I think the whole saga is a sad one," Mr Hamilton told the Press Association.

"I wish them no ill will - they were entitled to make the complaints, they (the complaints) have been investigated, they have not been upheld and we have been vindicated - we have been exonerated."

He added: "People can make allegations, they can go public - as these complainants choose to do - and we, because of our professionalism, have to stand back, bite our lip, say very little and allow the ombudsman to do their job.

"We did all of that, but at the core, at the heart of it all, we knew he had nothing to fear.

"We knew we had acted with integrity, that there had been no maliciousness, that there had been no over-zealousness on our part and the ombudsman has confirmed all of that.

"He has vindicated our actions and we have been exonerated."

The region's most senior officer said the episode had a negative impact on him personally and the organisation.

"The public noise about it was unpleasant and it's not good for confidence in policing and it does have a personal impact as well," he said.

Police had faced claims that covert tactics deployed in the bribery investigation amounted to little more than a "fishing exercise" and that officers on the case had conflicts of interest, given their links to former colleagues under investigation.

There were also claims that police lied to magistrates in order to obtain warrants and that entries in police notebooks and journals were changed.

Officers were further accused of inappropriate disclosure of information to Mr Gilmour's overall boss, the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (WYPCC).

There was another claim that an officer involved in the probe had unlawfully quashed a speeding ticket for a colleague.

Mr Maguire rejected the vast majority of complaints, exonerating all serving officers.

In the only adverse finding, the ombudsman said there was evidence that a detective sergeant had misled one of the men under investigation during an interview.

Disciplinary action was recommended in that instance, but as the officer has since retired that could not be carried out.

"The allegations concerned the conduct of many of the most senior officers delivering policing in Northern Ireland and it was essential they be investigated," said Dr Maguire.

"It was prompted by information police had received which gave them sufficient suspicion criminal offences may have been committed.

"They could not have ignored this: had they done so, they would have failed in their duty. The methods used were proportionate to the offences under investigation.

"The public can also be assured that the investigation found no evidence to support any misconduct on the part of senior officers serving within the PSNI or in relation to the appointed Senior Investigating Officer against whom many of the allegations were made."

Mr Hamilton, Mr Harris and current Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton were all investigated by the ombudsman, as were a number of other less senior officers were also under investigation.

The Ombudsman's Office had treated the investigation as a "critical incident".

Mr Hamilton was appointed chief constable in May 2014 - a month before the investigation into the vehicle contracts became public.

Mr Gilmore was suspended from his job in West Yorkshire in the wake of controversy.

He retired two years later, having never returned to duty.

At the time of his initial suspension in June 2014, Mr Gilmore, who attended a police interview in Belfast voluntarily, insisted he had always acted with honesty and integrity.