Belfast Telegraph

On the runs: MP slams Northern Ireland's Policing Board as 'toothless'

Labour Party's Kate Hoey accuses chief constable Matt Baggott of disrespecting board members

By Michael McHugh

An MP has launched a fierce broadside against Northern Ireland's "toothless" Policing Board.

Kate Hoey also accused Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable Matt Baggott of treating his oversight body of politicians and independent members with disrespect.

She claimed nobody wanted to get involved in the controversy over the Government's administrative scheme for dealing with republican on-the-runs.

She said: "Words fail me almost, it seems as if, as a Policing Board, you don't really have any teeth or power.

"If this had happened in England there would have been an immediate referral to probably the Home Affairs select committee would have had the chief constable in, the commissioner in.

"Everyone in Northern Ireland seems to have this thing that it is not ours, we cannot get involved, we don't want to look, the justice minister is not really interested because... doesn't want to get involved.

"Is it worth having a Policing Board?"

The Board was established in 2001 under peace process reforms drawn up by Lord Chris Patten.

Ms Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall in south London, was born in Co Antrim in Northern Ireland.

She was sports minister under Tony Blair until 2001 and is a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs, which quizzed various witnesses during evidence sessions in Belfast.

The independently-minded backbencher referred to the alleged lack of information immediately forthcoming from the PSNI.

She added: "It just seems amazing that the chief constable is... treating you with such disrespect."

Board Chair Anne Connolly said the chief constable would prefer it if the information went to the review of OTRs chaired by Lady Justice Heather Hallett and the committee's own inquiry first.

She added: "I don't believe he sees it that way. I think he genuinely believes that he is reporting in the correct way."

A Board spokeswoman said: "The Board is holding a special meeting and has held a series of private and public discussions with the chief constable on OTRs.

She added; "The Board has received a range of information from the chief constable, that information will be provided on completion of Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and Hallett inquiries."

Further reading:

OTR letters 'have no legal value' 

OTR letters final nail in the coffin of victims, Ann Travers tells MPs

NIO denies new fugitive letters  

Gerry Kelly 'is a chicken' for snub to OTR probe 

DUP leader Peter Robinson

Robinson: OTS scheme is a 'dark chapter' for Government

Northern Ireland's First Minister has branded the on-the-runs scheme a dark chapter for the Government.

Peter Robinson said he was appalled the system for dealing with fugitive republicans was ever put in place.

He told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee he was not aware of the "deliberate duplicity".

The Democratic Unionist leader said: "The OTR letter scheme and how it was handled will be recorded as a dark chapter in the chronicles of Government conduct; the fact that one of these letters was used to allow someone who was a terrorist suspect to avoid trial represents a deeply damaging blow to the concept of justice."

He said there should be no repetition.

"I have to say that I was appalled that such a scheme was ever put in place and equally concerned that it was being done in a covert way. The scheme was hatched in the full knowledge that victims could be denied the possibility of justice.

"It was inequitable, sectarian - a concession to republicans alone. It was deceitful and carried out behind the backs of two sets of unionist negotiators and involved consciously supplying false assurances and disingenuous answers to direct queries.

"It was hidden from parliament and the people by careful avoidance of the truth and, when thought necessary, by deliberate duplicity."

He said it involved withholding essential information from ministers relating to their duties when the new devolved government in Northern Ireland was established and, more particularly, when policing and justice powers were devolved in 2010.

The First Minister added: "It entailed a studied and wilful silence and refusal to provide what was important and relevant information to four of the Northern Ireland parties during the Haass negotiations dealing with the past."

"I hope that the findings of this committee and those of the Hallett Report will ensure that there is never a repetition of these events and that the Government fulfils the commitment made by the Secretary of State."

Lady Justice Heather Hallett is due to report back to the Government about the OTRs scheme later this month.

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