Northern Ireland's police must be given more freedom over holding terror suspects without charge, Parliament has been told.
Former PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde revealed that pre-charge detention extensions had proved vital in high-profile cases — which he could not discuss for legal reasons — on his old beat.
Sir Hugh, who is now President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), told the joint committee on the draft detention of terrorist suspects last night that he was “nervous” about the 14-day limit, warning it may lead officers to “feel pressure” to go for a lesser charge.
He added: “No Chief Constable wants to keep anyone in custody longer than they would have to. The sooner we can release from custody or put into the system a suspect, the happier a Chief Constable is.”
Home Secretary Theresa May ended 28-day detention without charge in January, saying it was “one of the key issues that people are concerned about” in the review of counter-terrorism powers. MPs questioned whether allowing extensions would make police lazy.
PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said there were already safeguards in place, citing the case of dissident republican Colin Duffy who won a judicial review after an extension of his detention in police custody.
He said: “The judicial review involving Mr Duffy and others was a case we lost. Detention was viewed as being unlawful.”
Mr Harris also told the committee that for every day suspects were held police only got about one-and-a-half hours on average to question them.