Police documents confirm briefing seminars took place

Connla Young

THE PSNI has released documents relating to a series of briefings to former police officers, just weeks after claiming it holds no information about the controversial information sessions.

Concerns were raised after the force claimed there was no documentation about a series of meetings to advise retired officers about how to handle issues arising form the Troubles.

Organised by the office of the deputy chief constable, the seminars are held twice yearly and include members of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers' Association.

The Irish News revealed last month that Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris has been present at two of the meetings since they began in 2012, while former deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie also attended three "legacy information seminars" before she retired earlier this year.

Mr Harris is in charge of the PSNI's Crime Operations Department which includes its C3 intelligence unit - formerly known as Special Branch.

Mystery surrounds exactly what is discussed at the meetings and police have previously claimed "there is no fixed agenda, no formal presentations or handouts" relating to them. However, recently-obtained PSNI documents now reveal that there are agendas for each of the meetings, which were titled 'Briefing to Northern (Ireland) Retired Police Officers' Association', and that both ACC Harris and former DCC Gillespie spoke to those attending.

Police documents, inset right, reveal that at one of the meetings, Mr Harris spoke about "the view from crime operations" while Ms Gillespie discussed "the legacy landscape".

At a subsequent meeting Mr Harris gave an "update from crime operations".

Those attending also had an opportunity to ask the senior officers questions.

Legal advisers from the PSNI's Legacy Support Unit have also attended the sessions.

The retired officers' association is currently refusing to cooperate with Police Ombudsman investigations into some historical incidents.

A spokesman for the PSNI refused to reveal if matters relating to the Police Ombudsman have been discussed at the "legacy information" events. He also refused to explain why police will not answer the question.

The Irish News understands the matter is set to be raised with the Policing Board by the SDLP's Dolores Kelly later this week.

Police have also done a U-turn on earlier denials that a representative of the PSNI corporate communications department attended an information meeting.

A spokeswoman had earlier told The Irish News that "no representative of PSNI corporate communications department was present at the meetings". However, when challenged with their own record of one legacy meeting, which made reference to a member of the "corporate comms" team being present, the PSNI said: "On further examination of this query it was established that a former member of the corporate communications team attended."

Details of the meetings emerged after the Committee on the Administration of Justice appealed a freedom of information response from the PSNI which claimed the organisation holds no information about the meetings.

CAJ spokesman Daniel holder said: "Given the ongoing problems of cooperation from retired officers in legacy investigations the PSNI needs to explain just what is being advised at these seminars."

Policing board member Dolores Kelly said: "It's a matter of public confidence that the most senior police personnel give the same message to police officers as they do to other people."

* RETIRED: Judith Gillespie n PRESENT: Drew Harris


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