Belfast Telegraph

PSNI chief Matt Baggott: refusal to hand over files is not a cover-up

By Chris Kilpatrick

The police's refusal to hand over secret files to its independent watchdog is not a cover-up to protect officers or informers, the PSNI's chief has insisted.

Matt Baggott said intelligence documents were not shared due to a lack of legal clarity and concerns over data protection.

The outgoing Chief Constable told the Policing Board the PSNI had received legal advice indicating that to hand over the material to the Ombudsman may breach data protection legislation.

"This is not about trying to cover things up," he said at the meeting in Belfast yesterday.

Earlier this week the Police Ombudsman said he was taking the PSNI to court for refusing to provide information on police probes into 60 murders.

Mr Maguire claimed police were making it impossible to investigate allegations of serious criminal activity and misconduct by failing to share sensitive intelligence with the watchdog's investigators.

PSNI interim Deputy Chief Constable Alistair Finlay told board members that work had been ongoing with the Ombudsman's office to resolve the issue when Dr Maguire went public with the matter.

Mr Finlay said his reaction to Dr Maguire's decision to publicise the issue was one of "surprise and regret".

The senior officer also insisted most of the issues of contention could be resolved through the drafting of a new memorandum of understanding. He admitted some matters may need to be tested in court.

"It's a point which I think is fixable and fixable in the near future," he said.

Mr Baggott added that if the case did go to court it shouldn't be viewed as a contest.

"If it should go to a judicial review, I think that's very rare, but it shouldn't be seen as a winning or a losing, or a competition – this is simply about making sure that accountability is clearly understood for the interest of everybody."

Mr Baggott also made clear there were no personal issues between him and the Ombudsman. "Neither is there any attempt to obstruct, to cover up or hinder the work of the Ombudsman's office," he added.

"I have been very clear from day one here – the Ombudsman's office is critical to public confidence in policing and I fully acknowledge and respect the work he has to do."

Justice Minister David Ford said he hoped the issue would be resolved without the need for court proceedings.

Story so far

The Police Ombudsman is taking legal action against Chief Constable Matt Baggott in an attempt to force him to hand over documentation on 60 murders – some of it believed to relate to informers. The Ombudsman claims his inability to access files has stalled his probes into allegations and complaints against the PSNI. Dr Michael Maguire said he had no option other than to pursue the unprecedented legal action because he had received more than 100 refusals of bids for information.

Cases at the centre of the controversy

Peadar Heffron

The Police Ombudsman is probing claims the PSNI failed to act on intelligence that could have prevented the dissident republican attack on Catholic policeman Peadar Heffron. The Irish-speaking constable, who was captain of the PSNI GAA team, lost his leg when a booby-trap bomb exploded under his car in January 2010.

Denis Donaldson

The former Sinn Fein senior official was shot dead eight years ago at a remote cottage in Co Donegal, where he had been living since his exposure as an MI5 agent the previous year. The circumstances surrounding Donaldson's outing and subsequent killing have been shrouded in mystery. The Ombudsman is investigating claims that PSNI officers who knew about his secret life may have exposed him as an MI5 agent.

Loughinisland Massacre

Six Catholics, including Barney Green, the oldest victim of the Troubles, were murdered by the UVF in 1994 as they watched a World Cup football match on TV in The Heights Bar. It has been claimed the atrocity was not fully investigated as the RUC were protecting an informer, and collusion between some officers and the killers has also been alleged.

Good Samaritan Bomb

Eugene Dalton and Sheila Lewis were killed in a booby-trap bomb explosion at a house in Derry in 1988. A third victim, Gerard Curran, died months later. The attack became known as the 'Good Samaritan bomb' because the three friends had gone to check on the whereabouts of a neighbour kidnapped by the IRA. In July last year the Ombudsman said police had information about an IRA booby-trap but did nothing to warn residents.

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