Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Letter blunder puts lives at risk

There is no doubt that the personal safety of former part-time police reservists has been compromised in a particularly hamfisted manner. A letter detailing how much each former member would receive from a gratuity handout clearly spelled out that the recipients were former part-time reservists and that was visible through the address window of the envelope.

Just how the blunder was not noticed before the letters were posted is anyone's guess but the effects could be far reaching. It is not beyond belief that some individuals' past association with the police force could find its way into the hands of dissident republicans, placing the lives of those individuals at risk.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that even in these more peaceful times in Northern Ireland, association with the security forces, past or present, could still put people in the firing line of extremists.

Quite rightly Justice Minister David Ford has apologised for the blunder and taken steps to address the potential risks. He has ordered a review of how the blunder happened and also a risk assessment to gauge the potential danger to individuals. A hotline for those who feel endangered has also been set up and will offer advice to the former police reservists.

It is a foolish knee-jerk reaction to call for Mr Ford's resignation over this matter. While no-one is underplaying the potential risks to individuals, the incident must be seen in perspective. It was an administrative gaffe and, as such, Mr Ford can hardly be held responsible. It is how he handles the situation from this point that counts and he has acted speedily and decisively.

It is a great irony that a letter which should have been bringing good news to people who served the forces of law and order well should have - potentially - put some of them at risk.

At this stage the risk is just that, a risk, and it is to be hoped that it remains as a potential, rather than a real, threat to lives.

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