Northern Ireland

Divisions between Secretary of State and PSNI Chief Constable over legacy highlighted in inquest revelation

Jon Boutcher’s comments over the outcome of a failed legal challenge against intelligence summary prompted criticism from Chris Heaton-Harris

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris has backed the new legacy arrangements
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. (Lucy North/PA)

Divisions between the PSNI’s chief constable and the Northern Ireland Secretary were recently put in the spotlight when the Irish News revealed Chris Heaton-Harris wrote to Jon Boutcher to question his actions and to describe his comments relating to a legacy inquest as “unwelcome”.

Details of the exchangew emerged during an inquest into the LVF murder of 28-year-old Catholic Fergal McCusker in Maghera, Co Derry in 1998.

It is understood the secretary of state is opposing a summary of intelligence being produced for the coroner, with his actions being criticised as an “unprecedented” political intervention by the McCusker family’s legal representative, former Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory KC.

The Kenova probe, led by Jon Boutcher, led to no prosecutions
PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

The coroner’s court was told this month how following Mr Boutcher and Mr Heaton-Harris’ failed legal challenge to stop a coroner providing a summary of intelligence for an inquest into the UDA murder of west Belfast man Paul Thompson in 1994, divisions between the pair became evident.

Mr McGrory told the McCusker inquest that the secretary of state criticised the chief constable’s comments relating to the outcome of the legal challenge.

Mr Boutcher had said he “accepts the judgment” and welcomed “the clarity that it provides.

However, Mr Heaton Harris wrote to Mr Boutcher to “note with concern” his statement, and said: “Public comment on this matter without reference to me as Secretary of State is unwelcome.”

Mr McGrory revealed details of Mr Boutcher’s written response to the Northern Ireland Secretary, in which he said: “I am independent of the executive and not subject to the direction or the control of government ministers, department or agencies.

He added: “Furthermore, I am under a duty to maintain this independence and I also have no intention of breaching this duty.”