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PSNI lives 'at risk after leak of files by former Ombudsman investigator'

By Staff Reporter

Officers' lives have been put at risk after a former Police Ombudsman investigator allegedly leaked security documents, the chair of the Police Federation has warned.

It was reported that the 69-year-old man was arrested in Dartford, Kent, on Sunday as part of an investigation into the alleged theft of sensitive security documents.

The BBC reported that it understands they were released to lawyers without authorisation from the Ombudsman or the PSNI.

The police have suspended the release of any further sensitive material to the Ombudsman's office until a review of security protocols is carried out.

The arrested man is understood to have retired a number of years ago and the classified documents were not part of any current investigation.

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay called for a full inquiry.

"The sensitive documents in question identify police officers and potentially place lives at risk," he said.

"There is more than enough justification for a high-level inquiry into the manner in which the Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland (PONI) treats some of the most sensitive information.

"It doesn't get much more serious than this. This is an astounding and very worrying state of affairs."

He added that the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, has been left "extremely concerned" over the alleged theft of sensitive documents.

He said: "There is a criminal investigation under way, but in a wider sense I am concerned at the operation of the PONI.

"If PONI cannot be trusted with sensitive information, then there's a good case to be made to restrict the data.

"There should be a full investigation by the Information Commissioner into what appears to be a blatant breach of the Data Protection Act, and the incident should also be reported to the Oversight Commissioner, who has responsibility for all information obtained under investigative techniques."

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said: "We have now commenced a criminal investigation and are also carrying out an assessment of any impact which may be caused by the unauthorised release of sensitive material."

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott described it as "shocking". He said the "gross betrayal of trust" had the potential to drive a "coach and horses" through the reputation of the office of the Ombudsman.

"Given the central role which some are suggesting the office will have in dealing with legacy cases, there needs to be a root and branch review before this can happen," he said. "I've had concerns for a long time about issues in the office and raised some of them directly.

"I was concerned, and remain concerned, that allegations of issues within the Police Ombudsman's office have been investigated by its own staff and not the PSNI or any other outside body.

"Serious questions need to be answered. Where does the accountability lie, or is the Police Ombudsman's office a law unto itself? The office also needs to make clear when it became aware of the alleged unauthorised release of information, and what actions it took and when."

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