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PSNI officer victimised after speaking out, tribunal told

By Allan Preston

Published 26/10/2016

Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris
Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris

The detective who coaxed a confession out of double killer Hazel Stewart has said he was victimised in his job ever since reporting two senior police officers for misconduct.

Yesterday was day two of a week long employment tribunal being taken against the PSNI by Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris, who secured the admission from Stewart, and Detective Inspector Conor McStravick.

Mr Ferris said that in January 2015 he felt "attacked" by a "barrage of phone calls" pressuring him and Mr McStravick into an unwanted position in Londonderry's Strand Road police station.

The two officers have claimed there was a "conspiracy" to punish them for their whistleblowing on senior figures, including the Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr and Rodney McGuckian, a high-ranking manager in the PSNI's Human Resources team.

Mr Ferris told the tribunal that "all things can be traced back to 2011" when he and Mr McStravick "took a stand about a serious issue" over two senior police officers at Maydown police station in Co Londonderry.

They reported a manager at the station for using a police car for personal use, making sectarian and homophobic comments towards a detective, and for not properly performing their role.

"I knew there would be a lot of pain for reporting these issues to senior management, but I knew it was the right thing to do," Mr Ferris said yesterday.

When Mr Ferris and Mr McStravick complained, they said another high-ranking figure at the station "covered" for the offending officer and seemed annoyed they had even raised the matter.

Both claimants said that afterwards they faced bullying and were moved out of their roles as serious crime detectives in Maydown, along with a third detective. Mr Ferris said he also faced obstruction from Human Resources in gaining valuable promotions.

By January 8, 2015, the two detectives were said to be relieved when they reached a settlement for victimisation against them.

Days later they claimed there was an attempt to punish them when they were put under pressure for one of them to take a three-month promotion in the managerial role of Detective Inspector in Strand Road.

This was not seen as an attractive role and was considered a snub by both men.

"They tried to get me to accept the post with a barrage of phone calls, I didn't accept it," said Mr Ferris.

He cited a death threat against his life in Londonderry and his wife's ill health for not wanting to take the post.

Mr McStravick had been off on a week's study leave for his upcoming inspectors' exam and said the phone calls were highly stressful to him.

When the Detective Inspector's role was not filled, the Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr issued an order that one of the two men would have to be transferred there at their current rank of Detective Sergeant, a position for which there was apparently no need.

"I was told it's either you or Conor going to Strand Road, that's when I felt victimised," he said.

Mr Ferris said that although ACC Kerr had "rubber stamped" the order and was following the situation, it was Rodney McGuckian "a very powerful person in Human Resources" who had been "instrumental in playing a part" in singling out the detectives for the move.

A barrister for the PSNI told the tribunal it was "fanciful" that Mr McGuckian, who had never met Mr Ferris, would have anything against him. Mr Ferris said Mr McGuckian had clashed with him frequently since his whistleblowing in 2011, obstructing him from gaining valuable promotions.

Supporting the detectives' claim yesterday was Detective Inspector John McClure, their line manager in January 2015.

"It appeared to me there may have been another agenda behind this direction," he told the tribunal.

"I was very suspicious of the motivation of Human Resources in these circumstances."

Mr McClure said there was an urgent critical need for a Detective Inspector in Strand Road in November 2014, but that he did not believe this was still the case in January 2015 and there was definitely no need for a Detective Sergeant.

"It was difficult to understand the logic of it," he said.

"I had concerns. Because I had been told the position of critical need was for a DI. I was aware both Geoff Ferris and Conor McStravick didn't want to apply, now one of them was going to be transferred as a DS."

The barrister for the PSNI continued to deny any suggestion of a conspiracy, saying that ACC Kerr had already been planning to merge the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and District policing and had spoken of a greater need for flexibility in the police force.

Belfast Telegraph

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