Belfast Telegraph

Police Ombudsman defends PSNI chief Hamilton corruption probe

'No evidence police chief involved in criminality'

By Jonathan Bell

The Police Ombudsman has defended his large scale investigation into allegations of corruption against Northern Ireland's top police officer.

George Hamilton and a number of other senior officers were subject to the investigation about their conduct when the PSNI investigated other officers about the awarding of £15m worth of PSNI contracts.

Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said no evidence was found the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, members of his senior management team and other named senior police officers, were involved in any criminality or misconduct.

His office received 56 allegations about a police investigation into the PSNI’s awarding of contracts worth around £15m and investigations into bribery and misconduct in public office relating to the actions of both serving and retired senior officers.

Both investigations resulted in no one being prosecuted.

Dr Maguire said: “The allegations concerned the conduct of many of the most senior officers delivering policing in Northern Ireland and it was essential they be investigated.

"Having established there was no evidence to justify a criminal investigation into the complaints, the issues were then viewed as matters of possible police misconduct."

Mr Hamilton, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris and a number of other senior PSNI officers were all exonerated in the investigation. Former West Yorkshire chief constable Mark Gilmore, an ex-PSNI officer, and retired PSNI assistant chief constable Duncan McCausland were among nine people interviewed by detectives in the 2014 police investigation.

Mr Maguire rejected the vast majority of complaints, exonerating all serving officers.

It was essential they be investigated. Dr Maguire

In the only adverse finding, the ombudsman said there was evidence that a detective sergeant had misled one of the men under investigation during an interview. Disciplinary action was recommended in that instance, but as the officer has since retired that could not be carried out.

Most of the allegations were made by a former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable and West Yorkshire Chief Constable Gilmore now retired - both of whom became suspects during the investigation, the Ombudsman said.

They alleged that the police use of covert methodology during its investigation was little more than a "fishing exercise" and that, given their professional and personal links with senior officers involved in the PSNI investigation, there was a conflict of interest.

They also cited as another conflict of interest the existence of an "invoice" discovered during the search of a retired senior PSNI officer’s home which named a number of senior serving PSNI officers as having been involved in business discussions. This "invoice" had been submitted by the retired senior officer to a car dealer in Northern Ireland.

Other allegations included: 

  • That police may have lied to magistrates in order to get warrants
  • Officers were directed to change entries in their notebooks and journals
  • and that there was an inappropriate disclosure of information to West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (WYPCC)

The complainants also received information from a police officer who stated she was ordered to ask a court for more time to hold a suspect despite there being no evidence against this person and that she had knowledge of a senior officer involved in the PSNI investigation having unlawfully quashed a speeding ticket for a colleague.

The PSNI Inspector who said she received a telephone call ordering her to seek a court extension despite being told there was no evidence against the suspect in question, did not provide any details of who made the call and was unable to engage with the Police Ombudsman’s Office, Dr Maguire said.

Ombudsman investigators examining the speeding ticket allegation found it had been issued to a different officer who had been answering an emergency call. The law allows for the disposal of speeding tickets in such circumstances, the ombudsman office said.

Dr Maguire said his investigators spoke to the senior officer who reviewed the papers in regard to the application for an extension to hold a suspect.  Neither officer could recall having spoken to the Inspector about the application at any time. Investigators looked at the relevant information available in the police systems on the days prior to this application and satisfied themselves of the rationale for seeking the extension.

“My investigators have not found any evidence which would support this allegation,” said Dr Maguire.

Methods used were proportionate to the offences under investigation. Dr Maguire

Police Ombudsman investigators interviewed more than 30 witnesses, examined all the relevant material and carried out a number of searches on the PSNI estate.

Dr Maguire said both his investigation and the PSNI's own probe into the claims were justified and necessary.

“It was prompted by information police had received which gave them sufficient suspicion criminal offences may have been committed. They could not have ignored this: had they done so, they would have failed in their duty. The methods used were proportionate to the offences under investigation," he said.

“The public can also be assured that the investigation found no evidence to support any misconduct on the part of senior officers serving within the PSNI or in relation to the appointed Senior Investigating Officer against whom many of the allegations were made,” he said.

With regard to the complaint that the officers had a conflict of interest, the Police Ombudsman found that some were not involved in the investigation and for those who were, their previous relationships with some suspects did not adversely affect any actions and decisions taken during the course of the investigation.

Dr Maguire found that the PSNI investigation treated its senior officers named on the invoice as witnesses.

“Given that none of the police officers named had responsibility for the operational management of the investigation, this document does not represent a conflict of interest. Nor have we found any evidence that the named police officers had any links with the complainants’ business projects,” said Dr Maguire.

It was also alleged that police officers lied and exaggerated in order to get search warrants.

“Investigators spoke to the two magistrates who issued the warrants and established that the information provided was in line with the material held by police at the time,” said the Police Ombudsman.

When looking at the allegation that police officers were ordered to rewrite parts of their official journals or notebooks, Police Ombudsman investigators found no evidence of entries having been added to, changed or written over or of pages having been torn out.

Police Ombudsman investigators examined the material the PSNI provided to WYPCC and found the disclosure to have been legally informed and appropriate.

A memorandum was submitted to the Policing Board recommending no disciplinary proceedings against any of the senior officers. The board, once fully constituted, will consider the recommendations.

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