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PSNI chief likens dissidents to ‘80s London street gangs’

The Chief Constable of the PSNI has likened dissident republican terrorists to criminal street gangs he encountered in London in the 1980s.

In an interview yesterday, Matt Baggott also claimed he had been called by God to take charge of Northern Ireland’s police force.

His comments come at a time when the dissident threat has never been higher.

“I think to some degree it's different but it is the same as, for example, dealing with street gangs in Brixton,” Mr Baggott said. “You get first of all the glorification, the mythology of violence and martyrdom to some degree.

“I think that has to be broken up by the reality that actually nobody else signed up to this.”

Mr Baggott succeeded Sir Hugh Orde last September.

The 51-year-old father-of-three, who is also the president of the Christian Police Association, said ideology currently played a lesser role in the dissidents’ violence than in previous republican campaigns.

“It’s more diffuse now, it’s more personality based, it’s more geographically focused,” he said.

“It’s much more about who you know as opposed to a very clear set of ideologies or hierarchies,” he told the BBC’s Seven Days Radio Ulster programme.

South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said the Chief Constable understood the province’s particular policing problems.

“I don’t think Matt Baggott was being dismissive of the problem of the level of dissident threat,” Mr Maskey, who sits on the Policing Board, said.

“He is looking at it in its totality and he seems to understand the depth of the situation here as well as the sensitivities — although I don’t agree with everything that is being done.

“In that interview, Mr Baggott went a lot further than |simply comparing dissidents to London street gangs — he |took a holistic approach.” Mr Baggott, a born-again Christian, said he felt his entire 33-year career in the police had been mapped out for him by a higher power.

“We came to a point in our lives round about the end of spring last year, beginning of summer, where we both felt something was going to happen, we both have a very strong Christian belief,” he said.

“I guess I would describe it as a calling, I don't mean that in an arrogant sense because there was an interview process and people had to make their judgments, but we felt very strongly pulled here.”

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