Belfast Telegraph

Selection of new PSNI Deputy Chief Constable in chaos as Sinn Fein walks away

By Chris Kilpatrick

The recruitment of Northern Ireland's next Deputy Chief Constable has been thrown into chaos after republicans walked away from the process.

Sinn Fein was accused of political interference in policing and waging a vendetta against one of the force's top officers, Drew Harris, who it's claimed was favourite for the post.

Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane had been part of the Policing Board's selection panel for the £159,000 per year post.

She dramatically withdrew from that panel yesterday morning claiming "the process may have been compromised" and added that "the best course of action would be to begin a new recruitment process".

A spokesman for the Policing Board last night said: "The recruitment competition has been subject to extensive independent oversight and scrutiny at all stages. Any suggestion that the process may have been compromised is firmly rejected."

However, this newspaper has been told concerns were only raised when it emerged Mr Harris, who heads up the PSNI's Crime Operations, was the clear frontrunner for the post.

Sources said the two candidates for the job, current Assistant Chief Constables Mr Harris and Will Kerr, both attained the relevant scores during last week's selection competition after which the new deputy was to be announced.

Afterwards a huge row erupted among Policing Board members, which was said to have lasted for almost 90 minutes.

During the heated exchanges it is claimed Ms Ruane argued that it was her belief neither candidate was suitable for the role.

The Policing Board declined to comment on the claims and what impact on the recruitment process Sinn Fein's withdrawal will have.

That was last night dismissed by Ms Ruane, who said: "I want to make it clear that none of my concerns reflect in any way on either of the two senior officers involved. They are clearly not at fault here.

"I have noted comments from other members of the board in what seems to be an effort to circle the wagons."

Opinion is split on whether a Deputy Chief Constable can now be appointed without the support of Sinn Fein.

"It stinks," one source said.

"There was one clear leader who should have been appointed, but Sinn Fein kicked off an argument that neither had performed a good interview, yet they both had received the appointable mark.

"On a split vote it was agreed to re-interview the two individuals."

The source said there was a perception within the board of a Sinn Fein agenda against Mr Harris.

In May the Belfast Telegraph exclusively revealed Mr Harris – who signed off on Gerry Adams' arrest for questioning over the IRA murder of Jean McConville in 1972 – was facing a backlash from Sinn Fein. Mr Adams denied any wrongdoing and was released without charge.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness blamed the "dark side" of policing for the arrest of Mr Adams.

Mr McGuinness claimed the move was "politically motivated" and said his party and peace process were being "targeted".

Then Chief Constable Matt Baggott spoke out in his colleague's defence. "He is, ultimately, one of the most professional police officers that I have ever worked with," he said.

Background

The post of PSNI Deputy Chief Constable became vacant when Judith Gillespie announced her retirement in March.

Alistair Finlay was appointed as interim deputy after indicating he would not apply for the job on a full-time basis, as it was felt any temporary appointee to the post would have an unfair advantage.

Drew Harris served around 16 years in the RUC before going on secondment to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2000. He returned in 2002.

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