Belfast Telegraph

Tributes as PSNI chief retires

Northern Ireland's chief constable Matt Baggott is to retire.

Since he took command in 2009 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been at the forefront of the threat from dissident republicans opposed to the peace process and determined to kill his colleagues.

The senior officer, 55, has been vocal in urging a political solution to sectarian tensions which have exploded into street violence and injured hundreds of his officers.

But he has also overseen a drop in general crime levels and broader community engagement with a force transformed from the days when bombs were a near-daily occurrence.

His contract ends in September after more than three decades in policing in London, Leicestershire and Northern Ireland.

"It has been a real privilege to lead the PSNI through the immense changes of the past few years. I am deeply proud of the courage and commitment of my colleagues and the enormous progress they have made on behalf of everyone," Mr Baggott said.

"In my remaining months as chief my priorities will be to ensure the PSNI has the resources to deal effectively with the many challenges ahead and that our very personal, professional and protective service goes from strength to strength."

He has been an officer for 37 years. His announcement comes weeks after deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie said she planned to retire.

The experienced officer spent 20 years with the Metropolitan Police and headed the team assisting the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry. In December 2002 he became chief constable of Leicestershire Constabulary.

Mr Baggott went to Northern Ireland with a reputation for community policing - but his brief turned increasingly towards dealing with public order challenges unique to the region's at-times fractured society.

Those included annual riots at Ardoyne in north Belfast on July 12 over a contentious loyal order parade.

His tenure has seen him deal with the threat of dissident republican attacks on colleagues - he announced the death of new recruit Constable Ronan Kerr in 2011 after a car bomb blew up outside his house.

Republicans have also attempted to mortar bomb police stations.

Last year his force was attacked by loyalists angry at the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall. His officers have been attacked using ceremonial swords, scaffolding poles and bricks and intervened in isolated hand-to-hand fighting between loyalists and republicans.

Mr Baggott urged a solution to sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland as his force came under fire and called for extra funds to employ more officers. The violence helped prompt the calling of all-party talks chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass.

More broadly, the chief constable has pointed to a drop in recorded crime levels and increased engagement with police across the community following reforms as Northern Ireland emerged from conflict.

Policing Board chairwoman Anne Connolly, who helps scrutinise the PSNI, said: " The chief constable of the PSNI is undoubtedly one of the most demanding jobs in policing and during his tenure Matt has dealt with some of the most challenging issues in ensuring the safety and security of our community.

"A strong advocate for community policing, Matt has worked to make sure his officers and staff deliver the best possible service to the community and build on the considerable policing change programme here."

Democratic Unionist board member Jonathan Craig said Mr Baggott had worked during challenging times.

"He carried out his duties with sincerity and warmth and whilst we did not always agree with some of the decisions he made, I and my colleagues always found him willing to listen and take our views on board," he said.

"The chief constable's job is one of the most difficult in Northern Ireland and Mr Baggott tried his best to serve our community and make our society a safer, better place. We wish him well in his retirement."

Mr Baggott was responsible for the successful policing of the Olympic torch relay, the World Police and Fire Games and the G8 summit of world leaders at Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "I would like to offer sincere gratitude to the chief constable for the commitment he has demonstrated in delivering effective community policing across Northern Ireland and tackling the threat from terrorism.

"He has made an outstanding contribution to keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure."

She added: "I wish him well for his remaining time as chief constable and for the future. I thank him for his dedicated service to Northern Ireland."

The chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Terry Spence, also paid tribute.

"Mr Baggott has been a chief officer of the utmost integrity who has displayed loyalty to his colleagues in the most challenging policing environment in the Western world," he said.

"We are grateful that he is ensuring that there will be no leadership void and therefore essential continuity will be maintained before his successor is recruited. On behalf of the Federation, I wish him and his family well in whatever direction his career may take."

Justice Minister David Ford said: "We have seen police officers come under attack from terrorists and from street protesters and the chief constable has been constant in his support for his officers.

"Despite all of the pressures on police, recent surveys show that public confidence in the police remains at very high levels.

"This is a credit to Matt Baggott's leadership and his determination to deliver personal professional policing in local communities."

Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw, president of the Superintendent's Association for Northern Ireland, said: "I wish Mr Baggott every success for the future as he prepares to retire from the PSNI, which is without doubt one of the most demanding roles in policing anywhere.

"2014 will be a very important and significant year for the PSNI, given it now looks forward to the appointment of both a new chief constable and deputy chief constable.

"The challenges facing policing in Northern Ireland remain very significant, and I therefore wish the Policing Board well with their responsibilities in appointing the right people for what are such critical roles."


From Belfast Telegraph