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Analysis: Careers of PSNI top brass may depend on outcome of ombudsman probe

Chief Constable George Hamilton is subject to an ombudsman's probe into the arrest of former colleague Duncan McCausland

ANYONE can make a complaint to the Police Ombudsman about officers either past or present.

So the fact there is an investigation into the alleged misconduct of senior officers is not all that remarkable.

What is remarkable though is that the complaint, to Dr Michael Maguire’s office against the chief constable George Hamilton and two of his most senior officers, was made by a former PSNI assistant chief constable.

When Duncan McCausland – who retired from the PSNI in 2011 – was arrested in 2014 in connection with an investigation into the awarding of PSNI contracts, it was a very public, and at the time embarrassing, episode.

The 54-year-old was once one of Northern Ireland’s most high-profile officers.

He was released without charge after three days - but not before he spent two nights in custody being questioned at Antrim police station.

When he emerged from the station following his release the former officer said he was “disappointed” to be arrested but his solicitor added they would “definitely not” be making any sort of complaint.

What made him change his mind we don’t yet know. What we do know is the fight-back from the McCausland camp started in June of this year when a writ was lodged in the High Court accusing the PSNI of “wrongful arrest, unlawful detention and false imprisonment”.

The complaint comes at a bad time for George Hamilton when the force is already facing multiple ombudsman investigations into alleged police misconduct in legacy cases and with a shrinking budget and increased pressure on current policing.

The PSNI’S most senior officer moved this week to publicly reassure the rank and file that he was not leaving his post and would be in the top job for the foreseeable future.

The decision by the chief constable to speak publicly about the ombudsman complaint, rather than the standard PSNI ‘we cannot comment’ response, shows just how serious a development this is.

In terms of contemporary policing issues, it’s considered to be the most serious investigation Dr Maguire’s office has undertaken.

It could take up to a year to complete the report and the future careers of the chief constable and that of Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris and Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton may very well be determined by the outcome.

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