Woman 'tried to identify' PSNI protected witnesses
A woman has been accused of using her job with the Housing Executive to identify people in the police's witness protection scheme.
The 32-year-old was arrested by detectives from the PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch on Monday.
Yesterday police confirmed they had charged her with collecting information likely to be useful to terrorists and misconduct in public office.
She is due to appear before Laganside Magistrates Court later.
A PSNI spokesman said: “The charges relate to information obtained by the woman during the course of her employment within the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in an attempt to identify persons who are currently under the PSNI witness protection scheme.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland takes its witness protection obligations extremely seriously and continually reviews measures to keep individuals safe.
“Under the terms of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, it is an offence to disclose the identities of individuals subject to protection arrangements.
“As such, police will not be doing so in this case.”
A 28-year-old woman also arrested on Monday was released on Tuesday pending further enquiries.
No location for the arrest of either woman or where they may have worked was given by police.
The PSNI will not disclose how many people are currently in its witness protection programme, designed to protect those whose lives are deemed to be at risk.
When such information was requested previously, the force said: “Any information, which is likely to lead to the identification or location of a person or persons in witness protection schemes, will obviously place those people in grave danger.
“The impacts of providing information, which aids in the location or identity of those persons, could include the diverting of additional police resources, the costs of having to potentially relocate people, and an undermining of the culture of mutual trust and security which underpins the witness protection schemes.
“Also, there will inevitably be a link between the persons on any scheme and an investigation.”
Police said the outing of anybody within the scheme could lead to the collapse of ongoing court cases and an increase in crime as a result of witnesses being too afraid to come forward with information to police.
The idea of witness protection is largely seen as originating in the US to combat Mafia-style gangsterism. While a witness may only require protection until the conclusion of a trial, some are provided with a new identity and may live out the rest of their lives under Government protection. Witness protection is usually required in trials against organised crime and terrorism. It is also used at war crime trials.