Belfast Telegraph

Officer heading Stakeknife probe on shortlist for PSNI Chief Constable job

Jon Boutcher, Stephen Martin, Mark Hamilton and Simon Byrne
Jon Boutcher, Stephen Martin, Mark Hamilton and Simon Byrne
Reportedly in contention for the top job in the PSNI is Jon Boutcher
Reportedly in contention for the top job in the PSNI is Stephen Martin
Reportedly in contention for the top job in the PSNI is Mark Hamilton
Reportedly in contention for the top job in the PSNI is Simon Byrne

By Mark McConville

The officer in charge of the investigation into the Army agent known as Stakeknife is one of four men reportedly in contention to become the PSNI's next Chief Constable.

Jon Boutcher, the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, is in the running to replace the retiring George Hamilton, the Irish Times said.

The other candidates are current PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton and Simon Byrne, the former Chief Constable of Cheshire police.

The Irish Times said their information came from "senior sources".

Operation Kenova, headed by Mr Boutcher, is seeking to discover how the Army's covert Force Research Unit (FRU) ran Stakeknife over a period of 25 years from the late 1970s to 2003 when he was exposed as an agent.

Stakeknife is alleged to have been implicated in up to 50 murders, particularly when he was head of the IRA's internal security unit, the so-called "Nutting Squad" that sought to expose informers.

Interviews for the job of successor to Mr Hamilton, who is retiring at the end of next month, are to take place next week.

Mr Byrne had been suspended from his post of Chief Constable of Cheshire police in 2017 after facing more than 70 separate allegations of bullying, charges that he denied.

He was cleared the following year after an investigating panel found no proof of the allegations of misconduct or gross misconduct. Despite this, he was unable to resume his Chief Constable duties as his contract had expired by the time of the ruling.

The two PSNI candidates boast a wealth of experience.

Last July, Stephen Martin was appointed as temporary Deputy Chief Constable after the previous deputy Drew Harris was appointed as Garda Commissioner. He has served for more than 30 years in the RUC and PSNI.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton has been a police officer for 25 years, also serving both in the RUC and PSNI in a wide range of posts in the Armagh and Belfast areas.

Mr Hamilton announced he was stepping down as Chief Constable in January, after five years in the role.

The interviews will be carried out by seven or eight political and independent members of Northern Ireland's 19-member Policing Board under its chairwoman Anne Connolly.

A human relations officer, an occupational psychologist and an external police adviser will also sit in on the interviews, although they will play no part in making the appointment. Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley will accept or reject the recommendation of the board in the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive.

In February, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald caused controversy after claiming no one within the senior ranks of the PSNI was capable of taking on the post of Chief Constable.

At the time, Mr Hamilton said the comments amounted to an "extraordinary interference in an open and transparent selection process".

The Policing Board sought legal advice about how it should conduct the selection process after Ms McDonald's comments. Sinn Fein will have one of its MLAs, Linda Dillon, on the interview panel.

According to the PSNI's latest annual report accounts, Mr Hamilton received a salary of £220,000 to £225,000 as Chief Constable in 2017/18.

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