Row between police chiefs and watchdog over statement of complaint

Two police chiefs have insisted a statement of complaint was made over the alleged theft of confidential documents from a watchdog’s office.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) asked Durham Constabulary to investigate the alleged theft.

The document from the Police Ombudsman’s Office appeared in a film about the murder of six Catholic men shot dead by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in a 1994 attack on the Heights Bar in Loughinisland.

Journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested over the alleged theft but the probe against them was dropped after Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice ruled search warrants against them were inappropriate.

Last year it emerged that police and the Police Ombudsman appeared to be at odds over whether a statement of complaint about the alleged theft had been made.

Dr Michael Maguire’s office said it did not make a complaint of theft.

However Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton dispute this.

During a meeting of Northern Ireland’s Policing Board on Thursday, Mr Barton read a section of the document.

Mr Hamilton insisted it is a statement of complaint.

“The point that I was making was not about the quality or nature of my relationship with him, it was about the assertion that he is making in relation to whether or not a statement by a very senior member of his staff was a statement of complaint or not,” he said.

“For an investigator or for a lawyer, I would say by any measure, it was a statement of complaint. But even if we take the Ombudsman’s assertion that it was not, we have a very senior public office holder who is saying I want to come and tell you about the theft of very sensitive material from my office, or if not theft, some other illegal disclosure of it.

“I am struggling to understand why the Police Ombudsman would be reluctant to make a statement of complaint because this sensitive material wasn’t anything to do with embarrassing content, it was to do with the identities of people who if it became public knowledge their lives would be at risk in the real and immediate sense.

“I can’t understand why the Police Ombudsman would not want to put his name to that statement of complaint.”