Northern Ireland news

Durham Chief Constable to answer questions around the arrest of two Belfast journalists

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton pictured talking members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board during a meeting in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison..

THE Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary is to attend a meeting of the Policing Board to answer questions around the arrest of two investigative journalists, in relation to their work on a documentary into the Loughinisland massacre.

The board met for the first time in two years yesterday, following new legislation passed by the Secretary of State in November allowing for the reconstitution of the board which hadn't met since the collapse of Stormont.

Under questioning from political members of the board, George Hamilton, who announced last week that he would be retiring in June, said Michael Barton of Durham Constabulary would make himself "answerable for his actions" following the arrests of journalists Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney last August.

The two men were part of the team which produced No Stone Unturned, a documentary that named key suspects in the murder of six men in Loughinisland in 1994.

Investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Picture by Hugh Russell.

Alliance Party MLA John Blair who questioned the chief constable on the accountability of Durham Constabulary officers operating in Northern Ireland, said: "The PSNI outsourced the investigation of this matter to the Durham Constabulary, which subsequently resulted in the arrest, questioning and release of these two journalists.

"It raised several significant public interest issues, one of which was how can a police service from another jurisdiction, albeit one operating at the PSNI’s request, be held accountable for its actions.

"I am pleased Chief Constable George Hamilton took on board my concern and confirmed Chief Constable Michael Barton is prepared to come to this board," he added.

Read more: Further details emerge in relation to arrest of 'No Stone Unturned' journalists

The Chief Constable also said the force was preparing for whatever kind of Brexit arises from the ongoing political negotiations.

"Managing ambiguity and uncertainty is a key requirement for people in senior leadership", Mr Hamilton said.

"Our planning around it is good, we are in the best place that we can be, and I think our work with partners, other law enforcement agencies, other countries is in a really good place.

"There has been a referendum, there has been a result, the politicians are charged with working out how they are going to do EU exit and we need to stand ready against a number of scenarios and working assumptions to ensure that policing can continue to function."

"We would be irresponsible not to plan along sensible assumptions", he added.

PSNI's Chief Constable George Hamilton pictured with Northern Ireland Policing Board Chair Anne Connolly. Picture by Arthur Allison.

Speaking after the meeting Board Chair Anne Connolly said they would be now be "getting on with the substantial programme of work".

"The appointment of a new Chief Constable and bringing permanency to a number of positions within the Service Executive Team will be the Board’s number one priority for the period ahead.

"Having a democratically accountable police service and with it, effective oversight is important for our community confidence. In addition to our accountability duties, the Board also has an important advocacy role to ensure the best possible policing service for all in our community and Members share a collective desire to achieve this", she added.

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