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PSNI's Will Kerr sues Policing Board over job snub following flags dispute

Friends say he believes his handling of flags dispute ruined promotion bid

By Liam Clarke

Published 09/06/2015

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr
Drew Harris

One of Northern Ireland's top PSNI officers is to sue the Policing Board, claiming he missed out on a senior post because of discrimination, it can be revealed.

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr has lodged an application for an employment tribunal on the grounds of religious and political bias after he failed in his bid to become deputy chief constable.

The appointment of Drew Harris as deputy was made last year by the Policing Board which consists of political and independent members.

Friends say Mr Kerr believes some unionists were biased against his application for the job because of his handling of the flags dispute and related protests in Belfast. His judgment in policing the protests was criticised in a court decision, which was subsequently overturned on appeal. He was also criticised by loyalist protesters.

A spokesman for the Department of Employment and Learning told the Belfast Telegraph: "Will Kerr presented a claim to the Fair Employment Tribunal on December 8, 2014, alleging discrimination on the grounds of religious belief/political opinion against the NI Policing Board.

"A substantive hearing will be arranged in due course."

This is the latest twist in an employment process which has been mired in political controversy. Sinn Fein had previously criticised the successful candidate, Drew Harris, and withdrew from the selection process before his appointment was made.

Mr Harris was previously Assistant Chief Constable in charge of the PSNI's powerful Crime Operations Branch, the post which Mr Kerr now holds. It covers organised crime, intelligence, specialist operations and scientific support, as well as overseeing all major investigations and providing overall analysis. In terms of the old RUC structures, this post controls both Special Branch and CID.

Mr Harris was in charge of the investigation into the murder and secret burial of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10, by the IRA in 1972. He ordered the recovery of taped confessions by alleged IRA members from Boston College and he authorised the arrest of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein President, for questioning. This angered Sinn Fein.

After the appointment, Jonathan Craig, a DUP member of the Board, said of Sinn Fein, "their only beef was that this man as a police officer carried out his duty and investigated allegations against their leader. They cannot pick and choose, you either support the rule of law and order or you don't."

Since Sinn Fein withdrew from the selection process, unionists must have supported Mr Harris. Mr Kerr is now saying that shows political or religious bias and relates to the flags dispute.

He was already worried that the PSNI was losing touch with loyalists. He spoke about it in Dr Paul Nolan's recent study, "The Flag Protest", which was published by QUB.

ACC Kerr felt loyalists may have been alienated, partly because the PSNI were concentrating more on Sinn Fein. He said: "This is where I think it needs a bit of honesty from policing. If you take the period from 2007 onwards, Sinn Féin signed up for a formal engagement with policing for the first time … and we rightly invested an awful lot of time and effort in that relationship and that was the right thing to do.

"I think if we were being entirely honest, for that couple of years from 2008 to 2010, I think there was a sense of growing disengagement between policing and working class loyalism."

The flag protests started in December 2012 after Belfast City Council voted to reduce the flying of the union flag on city hall. Mr Kerr was criticised by loyalists and nationalists over his handling of the protests. However, the court of appeal found he had been within his powers in handling a difficult situation.

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