Belfast Telegraph

Chief Constable George Hamilton unfazed by 'misconduct' probe

By Suzanne Breen

Northern Ireland politicians have expressed serious concern at the revelation that the Police Ombudsman is investigating the Chief Constable and two other senior officers for alleged misconduct in public office.

The unprecedented investigation relates to how the PSNI handled an inquiry into the awarding of a contract to supply vehicles to the force.

George Hamilton, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris and Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton are all being investigated by Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire.

He received complaints from seven people questioned as part of an investigation into allegations of bribery and misconduct in public office in the awarding of PSNI vehicle contracts.

The complainants are understood to include retired PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland and former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Mark Gilmore.

Mr Hamilton yesterday said he had no intention of stepping down from his job and was "absolutely confident that there will not be misconduct established".

It is one of the most high-profile investigations to be undertaken by the Ombudsman and it is expected to continue into 2018.

Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt yesterday said it was "the most serious accusation to face the PSNI in its history", and warned that the situation must be sorted out speedily.

"The very fact that the allegations are now in the public domain can only serve to undermine public confidence in the service," he said.

"It is imperative that the Ombudsman does two things urgently.

"Firstly, Michael Maguire must explain how and why these allegations have been made public before the conclusion of his investigation.

"Secondly, he must finish that investigation as quickly as possible, and by that I mean days and weeks, not months and years, so the appropriate actions can be taken to restore the reputation of the PSNI."

Sinn Fein MLA and former Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said it was of "huge concern to the public" that the Ombudsman was investigating three of the most senior PSNI officers.

"The Ombudsman in treating this as a 'critical incident' makes this so. No one is above the law and every citizen is equal under the law. The investigation should be thorough and carried out with impartiality," he said.

Mr Kelly noted that Dr Maguire's office had not recommended suspension of any of those being investigated. "We expect the Ombudsman to keep this under review," he added.

SDLP MLA and former Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said she had faith in the Ombudsman to impartially investigate the complaints.

"The allegations levelled against senior PSNI officers, including the Chief Constable, will have shocked many people," she said.

"I have every confidence that the Police Ombudsman will conduct a thorough investigation that gets to the truth of the matter. The new beginning to policing was hard won, we must all defend its integrity."

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll described the allegations as "deeply worrying" and called on the Chief Constable to step down while the investigation takes place.

Speaking in Belfast yesterday, Mr Hamilton said: "I'm confident in my ability and I have the passion to keep doing this job.

"I've got every confidence that the Ombudsman will be able to get on with his job and to investigate the complaints that have been made."

Mr McCausland and Mr Gilmore were among nine people interviewed by detectives in a 2014 investigation into bribery and misconduct in public office in relation to the vehicles supply contract. No charges were ultimately brought against any of the men - all of whom denied any wrongdoing. 

It is understood the complaints to the Ombudsman from Mr McCausland, Mr Gilmore and others include allegations that police documents were altered.

Mr Hamilton said: "I'm absolutely confident that there will not be misconduct established. People who made these complaints are entitled to make them and I'd encourage them to have the confidence that I have in the Police Ombudsman and allow him to get on with his job." 

He added: "We'll allow the Ombudsman to do his job and we'll co-operate fully with that and let's see where the evidence takes the Ombudsman because I'm confident that the outcome for us, the senior officers which have had these complaints made against them, will be a positive one." 

Earlier the PSNI issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. "The Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and other officers completely refute the allegations made against them and are strongly of the view that these complex investigations into the complainants were conducted with professionalism and integrity," it said.

In a statement, the Ombudsman's Office said its team probing the allegations included six investigators with access to external legal advice.

"The Police Ombudsman has declared the matter to be a 'critical incident' - an issue the outcome of which could have a significant impact on the person making the complaint, on the police or on the wider community," it said.

Belfast Telegraph

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