Secretary of State speaks to police chief over ‘very serious’ PSNI data breach

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne was on leave when the data breach occurred (Liam McBurney/PA)
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne was on leave when the data breach occurred (Liam McBurney/PA) Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable Simon Byrne was on leave when the data breach occurred (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has met the Chief Constable of the PSNI over the unprecedented data breach that saw personal and employment data published online.

Chris Heaton-Harris said he is being kept “abreast of developments” in relation to the leak, which he described as “very serious”.

Northern Ireland party leaders have all expressed serious concern at the implications of the data breach.

On Tuesday evening it emerged that the surname, initial, location and departments for all PSNI employees had been mistakenly published by the organisation in a response to an innocuous Freedom of Information request.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd apologised on behalf of the PSNI to the 10,000 officers and staff who have been affected.

Read more:What does the secretary of state for Northern Ireland do? 

PSNI data breach
PSNI data breach Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd speaks to the media about the data breach (Rebecca Black/PA)

A special meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board will take place on Thursday to discuss the data breach with the PSNI senior team.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne, who had been on annual leave when news of the data leak emerged, is expected to return to Belfast ahead of the emergency meeting.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill described the PSNI data breach as “very worrying”.

“I’m very mindful of the officers, the staff and their families at this time,” she said. “But we now need all the facts laid out bare for us all to see.”

She said she hoped accountability would be achieved in the emergency policing board meeting on Thursday, adding that she believed the Chief Constable would be there to answer questions from party representatives.

When asked if Simon Byrne should step down over the data breach, Ms O’Neill said: “I think the story is unfolding but I think what’s very clear is that we need to have this emergency policing board meeting … we need to see the reason why this happened … and there needs to be accountability around all of that.

“But I think we need to let the policing board do its work tomorrow.”

Read more:

The PSNI: An explainerOpens in new window ]

Stormont Assembly
Stormont Assembly Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill and MLA Conor Murphy (Rebecca Black/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the PSNI data breach was a matter of “grave concern” and is expected to meet with Mr Byrne on Thursday.

“Already I’ve had police officers in my own constituency in touch with me. They’re very worried about what this means for them, for their security and that of their family,” he said.

“The Chief Constable is returning from leave, I expect to speak with him this evening and we’ll get a better sense then of what is being done as a follow-up to this very serious breach of security.

“I know the senior command of the PSNI recognises the gravity of the situation and it’s important that they now take the steps that are necessary, not only to reassure their officers and staff, but to also ensure that they are adequately protected.

“Until I know more about the background to how this data leak occurred, what were the circumstances, I think it is premature to be talking about the position of the Chief Constable.”

Stormont Assembly
Stormont Assembly DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking to media outside Grand Central Hotel in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long has said it was “essential” the Chief Constable return from leave after the PSNI data breach in order to display “strong leadership”.

“I think it’s essential in terms of building confidence among officers that there’s recognition at senior leadership level in the PSNI of the seriousness of what occurred yesterday,” she said.

“While for many officers, they may well say the details that were released into the public domain in this format would have already been in the public domain in one format or another, there are others who have had very sensitive information about the work that they do disclosed.

“There are members of the civilian staff within the PSNI who had no expectation whatsoever that their role in the PSNI would ever be exposed to public scrutiny have had that disclosed.

“I think it is understandable that not only will officers and their families, and staff and their families, be distressed and anxious, that they will be looking for strong leadership from the top level of the PSNI.”

Stormont Assembly
Stormont Assembly Alliance Party leader Naomi Long outside the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, said everyone should be concerned about the PSNI data breach.

“Until we know the full extent of this and the repercussions from it, I think we all need to keep some cool heads.

“But the most important thing here is to rally around those police officers and their families and civilian staff who are affected by this.

“And they’re the ones that we need to really focus on at this moment in time.”

Asked if the Chief Constable should resign over the matter, Mr Beattie said: “I think it’s too early to be in the space to call for anybody to resign. But the more we get to know about this, the more we can make informed decisions.

“But right now, there’s no point doing speculation, it’s better getting the information.”