Northern Ireland

Board chiefs quizzed on why they allowed Simon Byrne to resign from PSNI

Simon Byrne resigned as chief constable of the PSNI earlier this month following a number of controversies (Liam McBurney/PA)
Simon Byrne resigned as chief constable of the PSNI earlier this month following a number of controversies (Liam McBurney/PA)

Senior Policing Board members have been questioned why they accepted the resignation of Simon Byrne as PSNI chief constable, rather than opening a misconduct inquiry.

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chair Simon Hoare asked if Mr Byrne had been given a courtesy which would not have been afforded to a junior officer.

The board’s chief executive Sinead Simpson said members had decided the resignation was in the best interests of policing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Byrne resigned earlier this month following a string of controversies, including the fallout from a major PSNI data breach in which the names and details of all officers and staff members were mistakenly released online.

In addition, a critical High Court ruling said that two junior officers were unlawfully disciplined for an arrest made at a Troubles commemoration event in 2021.

The judge said they had been disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Fein could withdraw its support for policing. Sinn Fein has insisted there was no such threat.

The Westminster committee questioned members of the Policing Board, the PSNI’s oversight body, during a session at Stormont on Tuesday.

Mr Hoare said: “Anybody around this table would agree we are all equal under the law.

“Why did you extend to the outgoing chief constable the opportunity to resign?

“You accepted his resignation, rather than suspend him and open a misconduct inquiry?

“Something that would have been done, according to the Police Federation, if this had been a junior officer.”

Ms Simpson said the board had received complaints from members of the public about the actions of Mr Byrne.

She said: “We received the chief constable’s resignation on September 4 through me and that was conveyed to the chair and we convened a special meeting.

“Members were advised on the Friday previous that complaints had been received from members of the public.

“In accordance with the legislation, we are required to send those to the Police Ombudsman’s office, whether it is a senior officer or not.”

Mr Hoare responded: “But the court had found that your then-chief constable had acted unlawfully and you accepted his resignation which is a courtesy which would not have been extended to a junior officer and which is an opportunity which is being closed down across the public sector.

“Why was the resignation accepted when the judgment of the court was in the public domain?”

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
Conservative MP Simon Hoare, who is chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ms Simpson said: “The debate among board members at that time was that that was in the interests of policing that we should accept the resignation.

“There had been a number of votes of no confidence.”

Mr Hoare said: “It might be in the interests of a junior officer who is in that position.

“It is the Police Federation’s assertion that that is an opportunity which would not have been open to a junior officer. Is that true?”

Ms Simpson said: “In the circumstances they (Policing Board members) felt it was the most appropriate thing to do and in the interests of policing.”