Police watchdog: no evidence officer passed republicans’ details to loyalist
But officer rapped for failing to take proper care of sensitive personal information.
No evidence has been found that police officers gave information about republicans to a loyalist in Ballymoney in 2016, the Police Ombudsman has said.
But Dr Michael Maguire criticised the officer responsible for losing the sensitive information, which he said had “impacted on public confidence in the police”.
A paper copy of a restricted email containing the names and addresses of six people connected to a republican band, as well as the names of a number of police officers, was found in a street in Ballymoney on March 26, 2016.
The document had been in the possession of officers who visited the home of a loyalist on official business the previous day.
It was found by an police officer who lived nearby, wedged under a wheel of his car.
The PSNI carried out a risk assessment, informed the people involved and referred the incident to the Police Ombudsman’s office for an independent investigation.
The Ombudsman’s office also received four public complaints about the incident.
The circumstances of the loss of this information gave rise to understandable concerns among those named and in the community, and impacted on public confidence in the police Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire
Dr Maguire said his investigation did not uncover how the document went missing, but there was no evidence it happened as a result of a deliberate act.
“The circumstances of the loss of this information gave rise to understandable concerns among those named and in the community, and impacted on public confidence in the police,” he said.
“It is unclear exactly how the document came to be missing, but my investigation found no evidence that it was as a result of a deliberate act by police.
“What is clear, however, is that the officer responsible failed to take proper care of sensitive personal information.”
The investigation found that the document was printed by an officer who was due to deliver a determination on a republican band parade planned in the village of Rasharkin on March 27, 2016.
The officer and two colleagues travelled to Rasharkin, where the determination was delivered to one of the people listed in the email.
They then travelled to Ballymoney, where they visited the home of a man understood to be a loyalist, on unrelated official business.
The officer who had the email was sitting in the rear of the police car and was one of two officers who got out of the vehicle to call at the house.
When interviewed, he said the document had definitely been in the rear of the police car when they left Rasharkin.
He said he had not taken it out of the car when they went to visit the man in Ballymoney, and he could not account for how it went missing from the vehicle.
Neither he, any of his colleagues nor the man whose house they had visited in Ballymoney, recalled seeing any paperwork in the garden, street or footpath.
The officer strongly denied giving the document to the man they visited in Ballymoney.
His account was supported by a colleague who was with him during the visit and said he could account for everything the officer did at the house.
The officer who had the email before its loss denied failing to properly secure the document, stating that he considered the police vehicle to be a secure place.
He described its loss as “unfortunate” and “accidental”.
Following the investigation Dr Maguire submitted a file to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
However, the PPS found there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
Dr Maguire then recommended to the PSNI that the officer should be disciplined for breaching the Police Code of Ethics by failing to maintain the confidentiality of personal information, and by bringing discredit on the police service.
After considering the file, the PSNI’s Disciplinary Branch decided to address the failings under performance regulations.