Belfast Telegraph

Matt Baggott: PSNI chief grilled

Our Political Editor Liam Clarke grills the PSNI chief constable about ongoing issues and problems

By Liam Clarke

His sense of mission after four years in Northern Ireland

If I knew in 2009 what I know now I would still have taken this job. I genuinely believe that I am meant to be here. I believe that what we have achieved together is fantastic, it was quite a remarkable story ... I believe firmly in my own Christian faith and I have a sense of calling to the job, I wouldn't pretend otherwise. So I wouldn't change coming here at all.

Will you seek a renewal of your contract in August?

You are not getting me on that one.... I want to get this year done first.

What has he achieved so far?

With such a smaller-sized PSNI we have been able to suppress and deal with the really relentless re-emergence of terrorism, as well as taking forward that whole concept of personal policing and dealing with organised crime.

Doing this with a diminishing budget has required experience in knowing where to look for money.

My job is to set the direction, answer the questions and make the tough calls but I am supported by a really innovative, solid team. They are the best I have ever worked with in my service and I am very privileged to be with them.

His frustrations

I am frustrated that we are still experiencing a lack of political agreement and that saps confidence in policing and weakens the effectiveness of policing.

I want to reform the way that disadvantaged neighbourhoods are being taken forward in social planning. Safety partnerships have a long way to go.

They should be tackling the real needs of the vulnerable, the elderly. They should be looking at the need not just the politics.

The cross-border fight against terrorism

Cross-border arrangements have provided great long-term gains. In November 2009, when I told the Belfast Telegraph about joint investigations and the border disappearing in the police terms, the reaction of loyalism was fierce.

They said I had put my foot in it.

Now relations with the Guards are light years ahead and because of that the success against terrorism is significantly greater.

... and the importance of extra money from Westminster

In 2010 we had 170 attacks. I negotiated £245m extra over four years, although we were being told we would get a significant budget cut...

If you look at where we are now, although it is very dangerous and still severe, we are averaging a terrorist charge a week now.

That, I do believe, has suppressed and contained what was a threat that was rapidly running away from us.

Without that money we would be in a perilous state now and we are still spending it now.

The threat from dissidents

They are still dangerous and they are committed and I think the current political volatility plays into their hands.

But Maghaberry is full and are averaging about one terrorist charge a week.

Was his low approval rating in the recent Belfast Telegraph poll partly due to the fact politicians didn't back him over July riots?

Yes, I think that is right. We have a lack of political agreement and if public figures are not absolutely unequivocal on the rule of law then policing gets dented.

This happens particularly when events are used as ways of scoring political points off each other.

His relations with the Policing Board

I am a firm believer in the Policing Board and some of the things I have done have increased our own accountability...

I have made this organisation very transparent.

I do think that the board needs to leave politics at the door, because we do spend a lot of time at meetings with politicians playing off each other, rather than holding me properly accountable for what we do.

Why the DUP's Ruth Patterson was arrested on charges connected with internet postings and Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly wasn't arrested for allegedly obstructing a police vehicle

Ruth Patterson's arrest was very much in line with other arrests for similar offenses.

We needed to see evidence which was potentially on computers and mobile phones and you can only do that with an element of surprise.

In the case of Gerry Kelly the evidence was always there (on film).

The DUP is asking about attacks on 33 Orange Halls in Coleraine over five years and on 17 houses more recently ...

Why aren't they asking me about what resources the PSNI needs to stay successful against the paramilitaries and deliver on community policing?

Why aren't they asking me how we can deal with that huge problem in those disadvantaged neighbourhoods?

Now, any attack on an Orange Hall is a disgrace, but in the last few years, because of community policing, the attacks on Orange Halls have dropped dramatically. I am happy to talk about that but actually this is a government, this is an Executive.

We don't want to talk about that arrest versus that arrest or that attack versus that attack.

The big ticket stuff to discuss with the chief constable (who is shaping policing for the next two, four, six or ten years), should be about what this organisation has and what it does.

Marching problems in Belfast

In August, the Apprentice Boys (in Londonderry) went through in a way that was completely incomparable to what we had in Belfast.

That is down to civic leadership, it is because of joint ownership of the problems of the city, it is due to superb police leadership.

The big challenge is how we can make what is happening elsewhere applicable to Belfast.

The effects of parading disputes on policing

That tension over the last year is giving real succour to those who want to take us back to the past. That worries me.

The other thing I say to the politicians is that people have to own the consequences of their actions.

This year we are three and a half thousand arrests down.

Don't ask me to do everything I can do about drug dealing when I have got seven Police Support Units a night down at Twaddell and I have spent £15.4m over the summer. Those police officers are coming from neighbourhood units and they are coming from child protection.

I am extracting police officers every night from doing the job.

I absolutely endorse the right to protests but it is costing £50,000 a night and the protesters are telling me they want me to deal with drug dealing in their communities.

You can do the sums and the Treasury won't bail us out for this.

As a born-again Christian how do you see the behaviour of Christian politicians here?

It is for everybody to work through their own behaviour in the light of the gospel.

I wouldn't make a judgment but the Bible talks very clearly about gentleness and patience and forbearance and sincerity and giving ground.

Those are the sort of things against which we all have to judge our behaviour.

The Historic Enquiries Team

The HET has done an enormous amount of good. Dave Cox has led that organisation with great integrity but he got it wrong on the treatment of soldiers and I am now reviewing 13 cases to see if any actual evidential opportunities were missed. Detective Chief Superintendent Tina Barnett and Jason Murphy, two officers with no RUC background, will take charge of the HET today and Dave Cox will stay on for a fortnight to perform the handover.

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