The PSNI has paid over £1m to officers who are currently suspended on full pay — including one who has been off duty for almost six years — the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Over half of the 23 officers have been suspended for more than a year, leading to calls for an urgent review of the PSNI’s disciplinary procedures.
This newspaper can reveal that in one case, over £200,000 has been paid to an officer suspended on full pay since October 2004.
Another officer, suspended since September 2007, has received more than £100,000.
The details are contained in documents released by the PSNI after a Freedom of Information request. They reveal that as of May this year, 23 officers are suspended on full pay.
They include a superintendent, three sergeants, 18 constables and a reserve constable.
The longest of the current suspensions date back to October 10 2004. In that time the officer — understood to be a sergeant — has been paid £213,293.
The PSNI refused to say why the officer was suspended or why the case has been allowed to drag on for so long.
Another officer, off duty since September 27 2007, was paid £104,896 while another, suspended since October 19 2007, was paid £85,458.
Thirteen of the officers have been suspended for more than a year. The total salary paid to the 23 officers was £1,055,108.
A PSNI spokesman said disciplinary proceedings were dealt with “as expeditiously as possible”.
But Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt described the situation as “intolerable”.
“That is scandalous and an absolutely shameful waste of public money,” he said.
“An officer who is suspended for nearly six years should either be back on duty or dismissed from the service.
“There is no excuse, no matter what the case, for anyone to be suspended for that length of time. It is incredible.”
Mr Spratt said it raised serious questions over the PSNI’s ability to deal with officers under current disciplinary regulations.
“I can understand that there will be delays in some instances and one of the criticisms of the PPS is getting cases to court,” he added.
“But it is intolerable to have officers suspended for years and there needs to be an urgent review in terms of how these cases are dealt with.”
Chair of the Stormont Justice Committee, Lord Morrow, said the situation was unacceptable and had to change.
“It is quite outrageous that a suspension should go on for almost six years,” he said.
“I am startled and very concerned that a police officer should be suspended this long and their case still not heard.
“When a police officer or any public servant is suspended for any reason, there has to be a system where these cases are quickly heard and decisions are made.
“We are in an economic downturn where budgets are being stressed. This situation can’t be tolerated and it can’t go on.”
The Department of Justice said it was consulting with the PSNI over reforms to the police conduct and discipline regime.
“This consideration includes reform that would serve to reduce delay in disciplinary procedures,” a spokesman said.
“Any changes will need to take account of our arrangements with the Police Ombudsman.”
A PSNI spokesman said any allegation of wrongdoing was taken extremely seriously.
“In accordance with police regulations, officers who are suspended from duty are suspended on full pay,” he said.
“There are only very limited circumstances when, in accordance with police regulations, an officer can be suspended without pay. In the majority of cases therefore, officers are suspended on full pay pending a full and thorough investigation. Each case must be examined individually.
“An officer cannot be penalised before an alleged offence or breach of Code of Ethics has been proven.”
Suspension of an officer is ‘exceptional circumstance’
In accordance with national police regulations, suspended officers receive their full salary and allowances while their cases are investigated.
The exceptions include where an officer is detained in prison, has absented themselves from duty, or their whereabouts are unknown to the Chief Constable.
In each case, the officer under suspension is either awaiting the termination of criminal or misconduct proceedings, or is the subject of a criminal or misconduct investigation.
According to police, the decision to suspend an officer is only taken in exceptional circumstances after all other options, including reposition- ing, have been considered.
- The nature and seriousness of the allegations, including any aggravating or mitigating factors.
- The strength of evidence.
- The public interest.
- The reputation of the PSNI and the effect on public |confidence.
- Whether effective investigation of the allegation may be compromised if the officer |remains in post.
- The nature of the officer’s position and alternative posts and the potential risk to the individual, public, colleagues or operations if the officer is not suspended.
- The likely outcome of a |conviction in court or of a finding against the officer at a disciplinary hearing.
- The impact on organisational efficiency.
The PSNI’s Professional Standards Department has |responsibility for internal |discipline within the service.
Analysis: Reform of costly process must happen...quickly
By Adrian Rutherford
The issue of payments to suspended officials hasn’t been far from the headlines in recent months.
Only last week it emerged that the Northern Ireland Prison Service had paid some £440,000 to suspended staff in the last year.
And the previous month it was revealed that £750,000 had been handed out over a five-year period to staff suspended by the court service.
At a time when the public sector is being told to tighten its belt, the issue of drawn-out disciplinary proceedings is one which needs to be addressed — and quickly.
The Department of Justice has already signalled it is consulting with the PSNI over how its disciplinary process can be reformed.
Today’s revelations in this newspaper highlight why those reforms must happen.
One PSNI officer has waited six years for their case to be resolved.
In that time they have been paid £213,000.
Five others have been paid more than £50,000 while off duty. That is money which the PSNI simply cannot afford to lose.
Nor is it only the police service which is under the spotlight.
An Assembly question by SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone revealed the prison service paid £1m in salaries to suspended staff since 2005.
Most of the payments that were made last year went to Maghaberry staff who were suspended as part of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Colin Bell in the jail.
Nine staff members who faced disciplinary charges following Mr Bell's death in 2008 were recently re-instated after appeals.
The court service has also been criticised after it emerged an employee was suspended on full pay for over two years.
Another employee was suspended for 18 months with the organisation paying out some £750,000 in five years.