Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Police chief backs new taskforce

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said he understood the concerns over accountability

The political impasse over introducing a new crime taskforce in Northern Ireland must be resolved so the region is not left outside the tent when it comes to tackling international criminals, the chief constable has urged.

Nationalist parties are blocking moves to extend the remit of the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) to Northern Ireland, claiming that it would not be subject to the same accountability mechanisms that were central to peace process policing reforms.

But political rivals in the Assembly have insisted the fears over accountability are misplaced and a failure to let the NCA work in the region would allow organised crime gangs to prosper.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott, addressing members of his own scrutiny body - the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said he understood the concerns over accountability.

But he stressed that he would only want the NCA to work alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland, with the PSNI retaining primacy in all operations.

The region's top officer said there would be implications for his own resources and crime fighting across all of Ireland if he was unable to call on the specific skills and powers of the NCA.

"I do believe the NCA should work here only alongside us, with complete transparency of intelligence, operations and investigations," he said.

"And if that was done with us then I would be in control of the operations and, as such, probably vicariously liable, and, as such, accountable to the Policing Board, and they are quite complex legal issues to be worked through.

"But I am confident that public safety does need to have the abilities and powers of the NCA but I am also confident that something can be reached which probably suits all the concerns around accountability and answerability and I would urge everybody involved in that to work as hard as you can to try to make sure we are not left out of the tent of international crime fighting."

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