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Top PSNI officers involved in conspiracy against whistleblower detectives, tribunal told

By Allan Preston

Published 25/10/2016

Geoff Ferris leaves court with Conor McStravick
Geoff Ferris leaves court with Conor McStravick

The detective who secured a confession from double killer Hazel Stewart has claimed there was a "conspiracy" against him and another detective after they reported the wrongdoing of senior police officers.

Detective Sergeant Geoff Ferris and Detective Inspector Conor McStravick began a week-long employment tribunal in their case against the PSNI yesterday.

In 2011 both men made a complaint about the actions of two senior police officers. They said their whistleblowing caused them to become victims of bullying behaviour and harassment.

Mr McStravick said part of the unfair treatment included sectarian abuse and being passed over for a temporary promotion.

On January 8, 2015, both detectives settled a claim for victimisation against them. In the employment tribunal yesterday, their legal representatives claimed that within six days a "conspiracy" was launched against them by a number of senior PSNI figures. They include Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr and Rodney McGuckian, a high level member of the PSNI's human resources team.

It's also alleged that Mr Ferris and Mr McStravick were unfairly pressured into accepting within days a temporary three-month promotion at Strand Road police station in Derry.

Both Mr Ferris and Mr McStravick were serving as detective sergeants at the time, and the role would have required them to act up as detective inspectors. The post was openly advertised, but after a lack of applications the recruitment pool was narrowed down to a choice between the two.

They were soon told that one of them would have to be appointed.

The claimants' legal team said this would not have been considered as an "attractive position" in the police service and would widely be seen as a "punishment" rather than a promotion. They also questioned if there was an "urgent operational need" to appoint a detective inspector to Strand Road at the time, saying this was fabricated.

Furthermore they said narrowing the candidates down to two was improper as other suitable candidates were available.

Mr Ferris declined the role saying he had received a death threat in Londonderry, his wife was sick and that he didn't need the stress.

Mr McStravick was on a week-long study leave for his inspector's exam. He said he was put under unfair pressure to accept the role, which caused him extra stress and depression and affected his exam performance.

He added there was extra worry in taking the role, being a Catholic officer in his home town of Derry. After failing to pass his inspector exam, in part due to stress and becoming ill, Mr McStravick said he had no choice but to accept a detective inspector's position at Strand Road, where he still works today.

Giving evidence yesterday, Mr McStravick alleged his treatment was "symptomatic" of an organisation that punished officers for reporting wrongdoing.

A barrister for the PSNI denied there was a "conspiracy" against the officers. He said it had been accepted the matter could have been communicated better to both men but their past experience in 2011 had made them "paranoid" of a vendetta against them.

A former Irish league footballer, Mr Ferris has been praised for his work in the past for coaxing a confession out of Hazel Stewart for the murders of her husband Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell.

Belfast Telegraph

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