Belfast Telegraph

Policing Board members should not get involved in operational policing matters, says UUP's Chambers

The MLA expressed concerns after comments made by Gerry Kelly and Dolores Kelly.

Journalists Trevor Birney, left, Barry McCaffrey outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)
Journalists Trevor Birney, left, Barry McCaffrey outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

A UUP MLA has expressed concern after recent comments made by two nationalist politicians who sit on the Northern Ireland Policing Board about the PSNI investigation into two Belfast journalists.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly and the SDLP's Dolores Kelly both criticised the police's handling of the case involving Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey.

Ms Kelly said police "made a huge error of judgement" by pursuing the case and Mr Kelly has called for the case to be dropped.

Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey were arrested last year by police investigating the alleged theft of documents from the Police Ombudsman's Office.

UUP MLA Alan Chambers, who also sits on the Policing Board, said the comments by two of his Board colleagues "strayed into operational policing matters".

“The advice contained in the Policing Board Code of Conduct for Board Members states that members must consult with the Chair or Chief Executive prior to accepting any requests to intervene or mediate in issues that could be considered operational policing matters as it may be perceived as a conflict of interest with the position of a Board Member and their accountability role," the North Down MLA said.

“If such permission was granted by either the Chair or Chief Executive of the Board I would certainly challenge it, as the comments from Gerry Kelly are a clear example of interfering in an operational matter.

"This is not the legal role of the Policing Board. Dolores Kelly’s comments also stray into this territory."

Mr Chambers said operational matters and decisions taken by the PSNI are entirely the responsibility of the Chief Constable George Hamilton.

"Holding the Chief Constable to account for his operational actions is the role of the Policing Board and I believe that these public comments from two members of the Board are a clear attempt to interfere in and influence operational decisions, and are extremely unwise," Mr Chambers said.

Millions of journalistic documents and digital files were seized when Durham police raided the homes and offices of the documentary film-makers in Belfast last August with support from the PSNI.

A judge ruled earlier this week that the documents and files should be returned.

Durham Constabulary Chief Constable Mike Barton will accompany PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton at next Thursday's Policing Board meeting.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have been approached for comment.

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