INCOMING chief constable, George Hamilton has refused to comment on Matt Baggott's refusal to hand over sensitive files about 60 murder investigations to the Police ombudsman. Mr Hamilton, who will replace mr Baggott as PSNI chief constable at the end of this month, yesterday refused to be drawn on the matter.
When asked for a comment from mr Hamilton, the PSNI press office simply said: "The chief constable is acting on behalf of the whole organisation and there is no further comment to make at this time." Mr Baggott remains under pressure to explain his actions after Police ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire launched legal action against him in an attempt to force him to hand over the files.
Dr Maguire said the inability to access files has stalled his probes into allegations and complaints against the police related to the cases.
He said he had no option other than to pursue unprecedented legal action because he had received more than 100 refusals of bids for information.
However, mr Baggott has insisted that the PSNI's refusal to hand over the files is not an attempted cover-up.
He said the PSNI had received legal advice indicating that to hand over the material may breach data protection legislation. Mr Baggott said the law around sharing top-secret information needed to be clarified, without an explanation as to why he, and two previous chief constable, were able to hand over information for the previous 14 years. Meanwhile, former Police ombudsman Nuala o'Loan has told mr Baggott that he is "under an obligation" to hand over the files.
Baroness o'Loan, who was northern Ireland's first Police ombudsman, from 1999 to 2007, said the law on the issue was "absolutely clear".
"The reality is, the chief constable is under a duty to pass the information over," she said.
"The responsibility is then on the police ombudsman to take such measures as are necessary to protect the lives of any informant.
"The Police ombudsman will be acutely aware of those responsibilities but the police can not argue that they have no duty to hand this information over, it's absolutely explicit. Parliament made its will clear."
Baroness o'Loan added: "i don't know why the chief is doing this."
"i quite simply do not understand why he's not just doing what he's done in the past, and what former chief constables, several former chief constables understood, to be their obligation under the law," she said.
However, DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson said the police had "to be careful" about handing over sensitive information, adding that national security had to be a "consideration".
"They have laws and human rights requirements that they must meet and it's important they get this right," he said.
"At the same time, we want to see agreement between the ombudsman and police on how this is handled and we want to see progress made."
* DUTY: Nuala O'Loan
* CONSIDERATION: Jeffrey Donaldson
* PRESSURE: Incoming chief constable George Hamilton, left, will take over from Matt Baggott, right at the end of this month PICTURE: Matt Bohill