Belfast Telegraph

Baggott regret on rehiring officers

Northern Ireland's Chief Constable has expressed regret over the police's handling of the controversial practice of rehiring retired officers.

Matt Baggott said he could see how the re-employment of 1,000 former staff on temporary contracts could be interpreted as having compromised the spirit of peace process reforms of policing.

The region's top officer was responding to an Audit Office report that found almost a fifth of officers who had retired with hefty payouts to give way to a new generation of policemen and women were subsequently rehired as agency staff. His comments to members of his oversight body - the Northern Ireland Policing Board - were his first public reaction since the report was published on Wednesday.

"When you look back with hindsight you will always find things that could have been done differently and things that could have been done better," he said after the meeting in Belfast. "Of course I regret that has had an impact on public confidence and I regret that at the time there wasn't a tighter scrutiny."

The report was particularly critical of the scale of recruitment of ex-Royal Ulster Constabulary officers in and around 2007 and acknowledged that progress had been made to address the issue since.

Mr Baggott said the policy had to be viewed in the context of a service that then faced financial uncertainty and was dealing with an unprecedented period of flux and change as a consequence of Lord Patten's policing reforms, which saw the RUC give way to the new-look PSNI in 2001.

"You have got to look at that in terms of what was happening at that moment and all the dilemmas and pressures that the PSNI was facing but, yes, I do regret that there was a public confidence issue here," he said. "What we'll do now and will continue to do is deliver better policing, reduce crime, (provide) higher levels of quality - all of that we've been doing year in, year out over the past three or four years and that's the way you improve public confidence."

Earlier, Mr Baggott told board members: "I absolutely understand the view that the use of temporary staff, particularly the less controlled return of RUC officers, can be seen as compromising the spirit of Patten."

Nationalist politicians have claimed the PSNI practice undermined efforts to create a police service with more Catholic representation than the RUC.

SDLP Policing Board member Conall McDevitt has asked the Chief Constable, who was appointed in 2009, to apologise for how the policy had been handled in the last ten years. Mr Baggott did not specifically say sorry, instead using the word regret.

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