Belfast Telegraph

PSNI chief George Hamilton: Since 1985 much has changed, but we all still have a long way to go

George Hamilton
George Hamilton

By Sir George Hamilton

It was 1985 when I started in policing; a very different time.

I became a police officer because I wanted to make a difference; but I very quickly realised that my desire was hampered by many factors including politics, prejudice, perceptions and the ongoing conflict.

This was all-pervasive - at individual, organisational and societal levels.

Over 30 years later, as Chief Constable, I can say that the situation has been transformed.

Both policing and the community have been on a remarkable journey.

Has the journey been completed? No, I think it is clear to all of us that it is far from complete.

My experiences as a police officer on that journey have been both painful and pleasant; at times I have felt part of progress and at other times I have felt we have been stuck, even pulled backwards.

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Overwhelmingly, however, I feel a sense of great pride in what policing and the communities have achieved together.

Over the last 10 years, we have overseen an almost 10% reduction in crime, and that is despite over £150m in budget cuts during my tenure.

In addition, independent surveys have shown confidence in policing continues to rise, currently sitting at 86%.

While we still have a way to go, we are also more diverse and representative than we have ever been and complaints against police are at the lowest level in our history.

I am deeply saddened, however, that in my final week as Chief Constable that I continue to find myself in the unenviable position of balancing my responsibilities to deliver policing in the present day against the need to secure answers and justice for the many families who continue to grieve everyday as a result of our past.

I regret the lack of closure and lack of justice felt by victims' families.

I believe that the right place for any legacy investigation is the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

The failure to make progress on the HIU has come at both a financial cost and a cost to confidence in policing. These costs will continue to increase the longer that the ongoing delay continues.

But these costs pale in comparison to the pain that grieving families continue to suffer.

It is a damning indictment that in the ongoing political vacuum on dealing with the past; witnesses and members of grieving families are passing away without resolution.

I am speaking at the end of my tenure as I did at the start to those who have the responsibility politically to make this happen - please make progress - it is in everybody's interests, not least of all the people who need answers, closure and justice for the loss of their loved one.

We have overcome far greater challenges in the past. I know we can do so again in the future.

Communities and politicians working together with police have shown great leadership and taken great risks to bring peace.

Remember the hope when the peace agreement was reached in 1998? Remember the optimism, pragmatism and compromise from political leadership that restored power-sharing 12 years ago?

As I leave this noble job that I have loved so much, there is one thing that is truly clear to me.

Fear gets us nowhere. Fear does not make peace. Courage, optimism and belief make peace.

So let us be brave and courageous; let us be optimistic.

Let us believe in a safe, confident and peaceful society.

To do so, we have to face our fears; to go beyond our comfort zones; to be selfless; to be ready to listen and have challenging but respectful conversations.

Sir George Hamilton is outgoing Chief Constable of the PSNI

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