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Only one PSNI member eligible to take on leader's role

Published 23/01/2014

Allison Morris

ONLY one serving member of the PSNI is eligible to apply for the role of Chief

Constable under strict regulations governing the selection of Northern Ireland's most senior officer.

Matt Baggott announced yesterday he would not be staying on as Chief Constable when his contract expires in september.

The former head of the Leicestershire Constabulary took up the job as head of the PSNI in August 2009. He was eligible to apply for a two-year extension to his contract when it ends this year.

In an interview with The Irish News in November last year the north's top cop refused to commit to the post beyond a six-month plan of action.

"I've got two things I want to do in the next six months before I start talking about the future", he said at the time.

"One is I've got to get the PSNI sufficiently resilient. Second is to take personal (neighbour-hood) policing into the next stage... If I do that in the next six months I'll be really happy."

Under strict recruitment criteria that governs the appointment of the senior role in Northern Ireland, only one of the current five assistant chief constables will be eligible to apply for the post.

To qualify for the role officers must have served to at least Assistant Chief Constable level in a police force outside of Northern Ireland.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton is being tipped as the man to take the job.

He was appointed to the role following the retirement of Duncan McCausland in 2011 who took a retirement package under the Patten policing reforms.

At the time he was serving as assistant chief constable in charge of serious crime and public order in strathclyde Police, a position he had held since April 2009.

He has almost 30 years of policing experience, serving in the RUC from 1985 to1994, before working in various forces in both England and Wales as part of a Home Office project to develop training within the police service.

He returned to Northern Ireland in 1997 and was part of a Patten Commission steering group developing a new code of ethics for the PSNI.

Mr Hamilton holds the various academic qualifications needed to apply for the top post. Sources say ACC Will Kerr could be the next deputy chief constable following the shock resignation of Northern Ireland's most senior female officer Judith Gillespie last month.

Mr Kerr was appointed to t he post of Assistant Chief Con-stable in 2009 and has previously been head of serious crime.

While he has served periods of secondment with other constabularies in England he is not thought to have a long enough service outside of Northern Ireland to make the grade.

ACC Alistair Finlay has also ruled out, despite having joined the PSNI in 2006 from strathclyde Police Born in Scotland, Mr Finlay is said to be a tough and experienced officer having served as a senior role in serious crime in Glasgow, however he does not have the required academic qualifications to meet the strict selection process.

The recruitment criteria is covered by legislation and is overseen in an advisory capacity by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The NI Policing Board will meet in two weeks to discuss the matter and draw up a recruitment criteria and job advertisement that will be sent out to the required publications within the next four weeks.

While there are senior officers in England and Wales eligible, sources say after the tough tenure in the top post experienced by Mr Baggott they may be reluctant to throw their hats in the ring.

One possible outside contender, however, is Deputy Commissioner of An Gardai siochana, Noirin O'sullivan, who has over 30 years experience and is believed to be the only female officer in Ireland who meets the present criteria.