Belfast Telegraph

Baggott defends recruitment chief

The PSNI's Chief Constable has been forced to defend the man responsible for police recruitment after he faced intense questions over the rehiring of officers who retired under the Patten reforms.

The exchanges came as Matt Baggott and his Director of Human Resources Joe Stewart faced the Stormont Justice Committee for the first time. Mr Baggott apologised after his senior official was accused by Sinn Fein of having wrongly told Policing Board members that rehired officers were accountable to the Police Ombudsman.

Mr Stewart defended his comments after questions from republican MLA and committee vice-chair Raymond McCartney. But as a further Sinn Fein representative continued to press Mr Stewart, the Chief Constable eventually insisted on answering the questions himself on behalf of the police service as a whole.

Mr McCartney told Mr Stewart: "This does not add to public confidence, that former members of the RUC are in frontline duties and are not accountable to the ombudsman, and you said that they were, in the Policing Board."

Mr Stewart said: "What you read out is exactly what I have repeated, and that is, we expected that they would be accountable to the ombudsman and if they're not prepared to cooperate then they will not be about the place."

The Chief Constable said all police staff were accountable to criminal law and there was no amnesty for former officers who might offend during their current police employment.

But Mr McCartney said he was making a separate point: "There is a history of retired RUC personnel not co-operating with the Ombudsman.They are now being rehired back into the PSNI and they find themselves in the exact same position, that they don't have to cooperate if they don't wish to.

"Then you have a senior member of your staff, when they were asked the question: 'Are you saying that all those staff I have mentioned earlier have to cooperate with the Ombudsman?', and he answers: 'Yes'. I would have left that Policing Board meeting feeling that all those staff were accountable to the Ombudsman."

The Chief Constable said one line from the Policing Board did not reflect the wide ranging discussions held between the board and Police Service of Northern Ireland representatives, but Mr Baggott added: "Can I clarify my position on that as Chief Constable, and I think Joe has attempted his, if there was a confusion around the words, then that is a matter of apology and I am not afraid to say that on behalf of the organisation.

"But I think what we are talking about here is an expectation, organisationally, that people will cooperate with Ombudsman's investigations."

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