Belfast Telegraph

Top cop Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris faces wrath over Gerry Adams arrest

Assistant Chief Constable signed off on Adams arrest

By Liam Clarke

The senior police officer who is set to face the full Sinn Fein backlash over the arrest of Gerry Adams can be revealed by the Belfast Telegraph today.

He is Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, who signed off on the arrest in his role as head of Crime Operations. He has been left in no doubt that the party leadership is furious with him.

A Sinn Fein source confirmed that it would use its influence at the Policing Board to raise its concerns. It is also likely to oppose Mr Harris' candidature for Deputy Chief Constable if, as expected, he applies for the post later in the year.

Unionists have blasted the Sinn Fein position as disgraceful.

Sinn Fein believes the Northern Ireland Office wanted the rules governing the appointment of the Chief Constable to be changed so that Mr Harris, a respected officer with degrees in economics and criminology, could apply to replace Matt Baggott.

However, the rule change was vetoed by most of the main Executive parties, including Sinn Fein, even before the Adams arrest controversy.

A senior Sinn Fein source has told this newspaper that the party blames Mr Harris and his department for the decision to arrest Mr Adams last week and there are fears that the working relationship between the party and the senior officer at Policing Board level has broken down.

However, last night PSNI Chief Constable Mr Baggott made it clear that the decision to arrest Gerry Adams was a corporate one governed by law. Mr Baggott made his comments in the context of refuting Sinn Fein criticism.

“There are numerous ways in which policing concerns can be addressed, notably through the independent Police Ombudsman, Policing Board or Human Rights Commissioner. As such, questioning the motivation or impartiality of police officers tasked with investigating serious crime in this very public, generalised and vague manner is both unfair and inappropriate,” Mr Baggott said.

He added: “The arrest and questioning of Mr Adams was legitimate and lawful, and an independent judge subsequently decided that there were grounds for further detention.

“In a democracy the police are tasked with following the evidence without fear or favour and in accordance with the law. The PSNI are committed to doing so regardless of any undue pressures. It would have been wrong to treat Mr Adams any differently to other citizens.”

A PSNI spokeswoman said Mr Harris was aware of the personal criticisms of him and she rejected them as unjust.

She said: “There is no other ulterior motive other than investigating a murder, that is our position. We are a totally impartial police service, as we have demonstrated in the past.

“We were accused of being biased when we went after the loyalists and there was talk of the ‘greening of the PSNI'.

“The unfortunate reality is that, if people disapprove of any action we take, then it becomes politicised.”

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said it was disgraceful that Sinn Fein was targeting its anger at one particular officer.

He said: “It is very sinister and potentially threatening that they would single him out.

“This man has a job to do, he is a professional police officer and he should not have been singled out in a way that could lead to his career suffering in any way.”

Mr Harris served around 16 years in the RUC before going on secondment to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2000. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2002, the force had been renamed the PSNI

Mr Adams expressed support for the PSNI when he was released from custody on Sunday night, but criticised the timing of the detention ordered by Mr Harris' department, which gave the go-ahead for his arrest under section 41 of the Terrorism Act.

He went on to refer to the “the old guard which is against change, whether in the PSNI leadership, within unionism, or the far fringes of republicanism”.

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