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Resignation of Stephen Martin a shock to some... but he was hurt at losing out on top job in PSNI

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PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin was giving nothing away just a few weeks ago as he left his Christmas lunch guests to greet journalists at a nearby table in a Belfast restaurant.

He shot the breeze briefly, very briefly, about policing and smiled sweetly when someone wondered if we were talking to a future Chief Constable of the PSNI.

Stephen Martin knew differently. But he deftly turned the conversation to the European Champions Cup prospects for Ulster Rugby whom he follows passionately and to the success of the Open Championship golf tournament in Portrush.

But there was no hint that Mr Martin was thinking of teeing off on a new career.

And his announcement that he is retiring as Deputy Chief Constable at the end of January still caught a number of his colleagues on the hop.

Not all of them, however. They had no doubt that he was disappointed at being overlooked for the top policing job in Northern Ireland last year.

Mr Martin had been one of four candidates for the Chief Constable's post and the smart money was on him moving into George Hamilton's plush office at the PSNI's Brooklyn headquarters at Knock.

Stephen Martin had been appointed temporary Deputy Chief Constable in August 2018 after the departure of DCC Drew Harris when he was chosen as the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana in the Republic.

Mr Martin's rivals for the PSNI post included Jon Boutcher, the Chief Constable of Bedfordshire who was leading the inquiry here into the activities of the Army's most prolific double agent Stakeknife.

The other two candidates were Mark Hamilton, a PSNI assistant chief constable and Simon Byrne the former Chief Constable of the Cheshire police in England.

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PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin after receiving his OBE in 2018

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin after receiving his OBE in 2018

Stephen Martin / Twitter

But there was controversy even before the Policing Board interview process started as Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said that no one within the senior ranks of the PSNI was capable of taking on the Chief Constable's post.

Former Chief Constable George Hamilton said the comments amounted to an "extraordinary interference in an open and transparent selection process".

The Policing Board sought legal advice on how to proceed and Sinn Fein had an MLA on the interview panel.

Eventually, five weeks after the interviews were carried out, Mr Byrne was announced as the new incumbent of the £207,489 job.

Some insiders expressed surprise at the appointment.

And friends of Stephen Martin said he didn't try to disguise his hurt that he was unsuccessful.

And he's watched, sometimes at the side of his new boss, as Mr Byrne who became Chief Constable in July 2019 was plunged into a number of controversies in his first months in the job.

He found himself having to defend the PSNI handling of summer bonfires in Belfast which by itself was nothing particularly new for a Chief Constable.

But at a policing conference he provoked anger after he said that a number of measures could be taken against paramilitaries including the seizure of their homes and cars while their children could be taken into state care.

Mr Byrne later told the Policing Board: "I would not want the message to go out that I am trying to hold the Sword of Damocles over parents."

Last month Mr Byrne had to apologise for what was described as an "offensive" tweet on Christmas Day in which he posed for a picture with heavily armed police officers in Crossmaglen saying it demonstrated the "stark reality" of policing in the area.

Sinn Fein and SDLP representatives rounded on Mr Byrne who said the tweet wasn't meant as a comment on the community in south Armagh.

Stephen Martin said in a statement yesterday that he had been honoured to serve in the RUC and PSNI. Like so many of his colleagues, he experienced some of the darkest days of the troubles and lost friends in terrorist attacks, friends he took time to remember yesterday in his resignation statement.

Friends say Mr Martin wasn't afraid to lead from the front as a uniformed officer and a detective and he was later thrust into some of the most challenging roles in policing including working in Criminal Investigation Branch; serious crime, intelligence and public protection.

The PSNI said he was also recognised as an expert in dealing with what they called "critical incidents". And he also put himself forward on occasions to face a grilling from live interviewers on the radio and television.

One former colleague said of Mr Martin: "He was always cool in a crisis and there were plenty of them. He took control of many difficult parades and he was also responsible for policing a lot of hate crime."

So far there's been no indication of what Mr Martin will do next.

It's not anticipated that Mr Martin will be donning the gardening gloves just yet and that his skills will lead him into other lucrative employment before too long.

He holds a Master's degree in business administration, is a fellow of the Institute of Personnel and Development, and holds a diploma from the Institute of Directors on company direction.

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