A group of PSNI officers are facing potential criminal charges following a fall-out between almost 400 cops and their union, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Six officers – who are allegedly involved in a campaign to overthrow officials within the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) in a row over police pensions – have been warned by PSNI bosses that they could be charged with causing disaffection within the force.
If charged and found guilty, the officers could be jailed for up to two years.
The officers, of constable and sergeant rank, have been accused of leading a group called Time For Change NI, which claims to represent police officers angry over proposed Government pension cuts.
The group has accused the PFNI of inaction and ignoring their concerns – allegations that the PFNI strongly denies. Since the group's formation last month almost 400 officers have forwarded votes of no confidence in the association's senior officials.
In a bid to drum up support, the group has held meetings at police stations across Northern Ireland, forwarded information documents to all serving police officers and lobbied MPs and MLAs, including First Minister Peter Robinson and Justice Minister David Ford.
As the row between the group and the PFNI intensifies, Deputy Chief Constable Alistair Finlay has emailed the six officers to warn them that under Article 35 of the Police (NI) Act 1988 the PFNI is a statutory body and it is unlawful to form another representative body. He also warned them that under Article 68 of the Act it is an offence to cause disaffection within the force.
In a subsequent email to all officers, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Finlay advised them that any concerns about the PFNI must be addressed through the PFNI.
Mr Finlay has also banned the group from using duty time to arrange or attend meetings in regard to police pensions and from using the internal PSNI email system to distribute information.
However, officers frustrated over pension changes have said they are still determined to campaign against the proposals.
"We feel this is an attempt to silence us. But this has made us more determined... we will now take our own legal action to challenge these reforms," one officer said.
The proposed pension reforms due to be implemented early next year will mean that many officers will have to work longer and for less for their retirement packages.
Story so far
A row erupted earlier this year between the Police Federation for Northern Ireland and a number of its members over proposed pension reforms. Some officers claimed the federation had not done enough to help protect their retirement packages and have since formed a group called Time For Change NI.