Belfast Telegraph

Matt Baggott: We lost grip over rehiring of former officers

By John Mulgrew

Chief Constable Matt Baggott has admitted his force’s “corporate grip was not tight enough” and could have been more transparent regarding the rehiring of retired officers.

Addressing concerns outlined in a report published this week over the reappointment of 1,000 retired RUC officers, he said it was “compromising the spirit of Patten” and expressed regret over its findings.

But Northern Ireland’s most senior police officer did not offer an apology for the force’s mass recruitment of former staff.

Mr Baggott was speaking at a meeting of the Policing Board yesterday following a report into the hiring of temporary workers at a cost of more than £100m, which had been described as “out of control”.

Policing Board chair Brian Rea described the findings as “deeply concerning”.

More than 2,700 temporary workers were employed by the PSNI over the past decade to fill the void left by officers who retired under the Patten scheme.

Almost 40% of those were former officers who had retired under the force’s severance scheme — described as the most generous in the world. “The report questions the grip and control of the use of temporary staff,” the Chief Constable said.

“Would I say, with the benefit of hindsight, that the level of scrutiny and challenge was adequate? It wasn’t.”

Flanked by his most senior colleagues, he said there needed to be a “greater level of accountability”.

There was further criticism directed at the PSNI’s alleged lack of information sharing with the Policing Board.

SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said the audit would not have been needed if the force had been more open.

“This Audit Office report would never have been necessary if the PSNI had been providing the Policing Board with the information it had been requesting since 2004,” he told the Belfast Telegraph after the meeting.

During the meeting he described it as “a closed shop” which had kept the board “in the dark”.

Fellow board member Joan O’Hagan said the concerns “could have been addressed a long time ago” and described the attitude of police following the request of information as sometimes “borderline abusive”.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly — who had described the force as an “old boys club” — said the board had been raising concerns about police rehiring of officers since 2004.

Calls for an apology prompted an angry response from the DUP’s Jonathan Craig, who said that calling for Mr Baggott to apologise was an “absolute disgrace”.

“Because, the one saving grace in all of this, I would have to say, Chief Constable, is yourself and the attitude you have taken towards financial control since you became Chief Constable,” he added.

Background

An Audit Office report published this week described the PSNI’s rehiring of some 2,700 temporary workers — 40% of which were former police officers — as a system “out of control”. They were taken on board to fill the void left by officers who took severance packages under the Patten policing reforms. At a cost to the public purse of more than £100m, it was claimed there was “inadequate planning” and a lack of governance as the number of temporary workers soared between 2002 and 2007.

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