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Orde faces quiz over top cop

CHIEF Constable Hugh Orde is to be quizzed over the shock departure of Belfast's highest ranking Special Branch officer.

CHIEF Constable Hugh Orde is to be quizzed over the shock departure of Belfast's highest ranking Special Branch officer.

Veteran cop Bill Lowry quit following a row over a briefing he gave to the BBC on the IRA spy scandal.

Policing Board member Ian Paisley Jnr says he intends to quiz the Chief Constable about the circumstances of the senior officer's acrimonious departure.

And friends of 55-year-old Lowry say they are dismayed over how he was treated, and claim he was "scapegoated".

Mr Paisley told Sunday Life: "I intend to ask the Chief Constable what exactly happened to Mr Lowry.

"I have heard different stories, including one version which suggests he was treated extremely unfairly.

"We need answers to establish whether this senior officer was made a scapegoat for a failing or mistake in another area."

A former RUC divisional commander in west Belfast, Mr Lowry headed the intelligence operation that led to the recent raid on Sinn Fein's Stormont offices.

It is understood Chief Superintendent Lowry was escorted to his office to clear his desk, after being served with a disciplinary charge by Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland - a charge that was withdrawn 48 hours later.

It is understood that, two days earlier on October 13, he had a bust-up with the man responsible for Special Branch operations, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Albiston, over the briefing.

Mr Lowry's lawyers are now finalising severance terms with the PSNI.

But colleagues and friends say they are alarmed at what they regard as the unexplained "scapegoating" of the top policeman.

"Bill agreed to conduct a briefing for Brian Rowan of the BBC.

"It was approved by Alan McQuillan, the ACC for Belfast, and the head of the press office was present to take notes.

"Bill answered questions put to him by Rowan and didn't tell any lies, but after the BBC ran a report, the hierarchy launched into him.

"There was nothing that we can establish in the report that wasn't already in the public domain, so colleagues are at a loss to know why Bill was carpeted," one Special Branch source said.

"The fact he was escorted to his desk was incredible. After 30 years' service, to treat a senior officer like this was disgraceful," one senior colleague said.

Friends are mystified as to why the BBC briefing apparently sparked such a row.

"The briefing was sanctioned and Bill was sent along with the approval of the ACC for Belfast," said the colleague.

The Police Service has declined to comment. But it last week confirmed an inquiry is on-going into alleged police leaks to the media.

Mr Lowry had previously clashed with Hugh Orde before he became Chief Constable over the prosecution of UDA informant William Stobie. Special Branch sources say he told the Stevens team they wouldn't achieve a conviction, but could be signing Stobie's death warrant by bringing him to trial.

Stobie was murdered by the UDA a year ago, just weeks after he was acquitted on charges brought by the Stevens team, which Mr Orde was in charge of in Belfast.