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Top officer Mark Hamilton admits to disquiet in PSNI ranks

By Deborah McAleese

There is a level of "rancour" within the ranks of the PSNI, a top police officer has admitted.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said officers are under greater pressure than ever before and are working within an environment of crippling budget cuts and diminishing police numbers.

He said officers are "understandably" annoyed that despite this increased pressure they will be retiring with less money in their pockets due to pension reform.

Mr Hamilton insisted, however, that officers are "as motivated as ever to protect the community".

Discontent amongst rank and file officers has spilled over into a bitter row with their staff association, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, in relation to pensions, governance and the body's performance.

Calls have been made for the Chief Constable to step in and resolve the dispute.

However, Mr Hamilton said that the Chief Constable "will not and cannot" get involved in staff association matters and urged the federation to resolve the issues.

"There is no role for the Chief Constable to tell the staff association how to run their affairs. No staff association would be worth its salt if the people who were to be held to account by the staff association had any sort of control over how the association is run," said Mr Hamilton.

"That said, the well-being of the federation does have a reflection on how the force behaves. So if there is rancour in the service it is not in the Chief Constable's interest if that goes on and he would be very supportive of the federation to take whatever steps it needs to deal with the issues," Mr Hamilton added.

Officers have come through two-and-a-half years of "incredibly tough" times with flag protests, the G8 and riots, said Mr Hamilton.

"I do think that every member of the organisation is having to work harder than they ever did. The demands upon us are great and the volume of work is high. But our police service is massively committed," added Mr Hamilton.

Last month a PSNI 'whistleblower' sent a force-wide email claiming to have witnessed "abuses of power", "sinister acts", bullying, harassment and "witch-hunts" over the past 12 years.

The officer, who joined the police in 2002, said he was too afraid to return to work as by publicising his concerns he had "committed career suicide".

Mr Hamilton said that to his knowledge the officer has not made any official complaints and insisted that bullying and harassment is not tolerated.

"I don't believe it's career suicide to challenge chief officers. I think we are very clear that we won't tolerate bullying or harassment. I personally am very happy to talk to any officer who has these concerns. You can raise anything you want to your supervisor and it will work its way up," Mr Hamilton said.

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