Belfast Telegraph

New PSNI chief: George Hamilton 'honoured and humbled' to be appointed as Matt Baggott's successor

By David Young

Northern Ireland's first home-grown chief constable for 12 years, George Hamilton, has claimed a passion for the region drove him to its top policing job.

The Co Down father-of-four said he was "honoured and humbled" to have been appointed as Matt Baggott's successor.

Mr Baggott is retiring later this year after five years in the high-profile post.

He had succeeded fellow Londoner Sir Hugh Orde who took the helm of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2002, shortly after it replaced the old Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) as part of peace process reforms.

Mr Hamilton, from Bangor, yesterday saw off competition from Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and Garda Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne during an intensive round of interviews and testing at the PSNI's oversight body, the Policing Board, in Belfast.

That a board containing Sinn Fein members backed the appointment of an officer who has spent almost half of his career in the RUC is being viewed as a politically significant step.

"I care passionately about this place," Mr Hamilton, 46, said today when asked why he applied.

"I have a stake in it, I have got family here. I have lived here for most of my life and I believe that it's important that we all work together and everyone makes the contribution that they can to make Northern Ireland a better place to live, to work, to visit.

"I want to be the chief constable to make Northern Ireland a safer, better, more confident place."

Currently a PSNI assistant chief constable, Mr Hamilton was the only locally based officer eligible to apply for the £195,000-a-year chief's post after the Policing Board opted to retain the controversial criterion that required all candidates to have served at least two years at senior command level outside Northern Ireland.

He was assistant chief constable in Strathclyde from 2009 to 2011 and also worked in England for three years on a range of police training and organisational development projects

The new chief faces a stacked in-tray when he takes over the reins from Mr Baggott.

The PSNI is currently trying to balance a dwindling budget with its ongoing fight against dissident republican terrorism - a challenge emphasised by a fire bomb attack at a Londonderry hotel last night.

Its resources are also being stretched trying to fulfil its obligations to both investigate and provide information to the Coroners Service in regard to historic Troubles-related cases.

Also, last year almost 850 officers were injured in rioting linked to disputes over flags and parades.

With Northern Ireland's politicians having failed to strike any deal to resolve the issues, the spectre of a recurrence of disorder this summer again looms large.

On the stalled efforts to reach consensus over the thorny political problems, Mr Hamilton said: "Of course I like anyone else who has got a stake, who cares passionately about the well-being of Northern Ireland, would like to see a resolution to that.

"I think we need to allow the politicians to get on with that. Policing and in my role as chief constable I think we will have and it will be important that we are part of that conversation, not to do the politics but certainly to inform it and talk through some of the experiences that we have had in dealing with these issues.

"So I am up for engagement with those political leaders around that, but primarily it is a political issue and it requires a wider political, societal resolution."

He said the PSNI faced "massive challenges" in regard to legacy cases, but stressed the importance of the work.

"There are massive challenges there, there are financial challenges on how we are going to fund that," he said.

"That is a dilemma that I want to share and discuss with the Policing Board about the best way forward on all of that.

"But every one of those legacy issues are not just to be written off as some sort of second division policing - those are real issues for families today who still feel pain and hurt and so that will be an important issue that we need to deal with together."

Mr Baggott placed great emphasis on engendering a community-based policing style in Northern Ireland - an aspiration that was somewhat undermined by the continuing security threat to officers.

Mr Hamilton said he wanted to build on Mr Baggott's work.

"He has put in place some very important building blocks and we want to take that forward, we want to build on the legacy that Matt has left," he said.

The praise was flowing in both directions, as Mr Baggott had earlier hailed the selection of his replacement.

"George Hamilton is an outstanding police leader with significant skills and experience," he said.

"I'm delighted he is to be my successor and he will bring a huge amount to the role of chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland."

Outlining his goals, Mr Hamilton said he also wanted to further develop the PSNI's good working relationship with the Garda in the Republic of Ireland.

Policing Board chair Anne Connolly said Mr Hamilton had emerged on top after a "robust" recruitment process.

"There is no doubt that the chief constable post here is challenging, demanding and carries a high profile but George has the necessary skills to meet these demands and when he takes up the role he will be leading the PSNI into the next phase of its history."

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