PSNI chief announces departure date with plea for new approach to the past

Matt Baggott calls for ‘investigation and resolution’ to be placed ‘in different hands’

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton with Chief Constable Matt Baggott (right). Photograph: David Young/PA

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton with Chief Constable Matt Baggott (right). Photograph: David Young/PA

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 01:00

The outgoing Chief Constable of the PSNI has used his final appearance before the Policing Board to appeal for a fresh approach to dealing with Northern Ireland’s past.

Matt Baggott called for a new body to deal with legacy issues from the Troubles, insisting that “leadership, investigation and resolution” be put in “different, independent hands”.

Following the appointment of George Hamilton as the incoming head of the police service, Mr Baggott announced to the board in Belfast he has brought forward his departure date to the end of June.

He has led the PSNI through turbulent times, not least devolution of policing and justice powers from London to Stormont’s Department of Justice. He has also contended with the flags protests, the dissident threat and multiple problems associated with legacy issues.

Testing

The on-the-runs controversy, the arrest of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and the prospect of legal action by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire over claims that his investigations have been hampered by a PSNI failure to disclose sensitive information have meant that Mr Baggott’s final months in office have been testing.

In a statement to the board Mr Baggott described problems with dealing with Northern Ireland’s past as “debilitating and toxic to confidence”.

“I have overseen personally the aftermath of four public inquiries, on-the-runs, the Historical Enquiries Team which started as a precursor to a broader solution with political support but itself has become controversial,” he said. “Every historical arrest made under the law is a crisis and politicised.” He insisted there had been no cover-up in relation to the ombudsman’s requests.

He pointed out to Policing Board members that investigations of unsolved murders from the Troubles continue to be “blocked” by a logjam at coroner’s level saying: “It will take decades to resolve, even with some uplift in PSNI resources.”

“It is time to deal with the past in a different way, which does not ignore it but moves it to one side and puts leadership, investigation and resolution in different, independent hands,” he said. “We need . . . creativity and urgently. The past must be separated, with respect, from the present.”

While not referring directly to Mr Maguire’s actions, Mr Baggott told the board: “There is confusion about overlapping and conflicting legislation about responsibilities and accountability for information and investigation, particularly with regard to national security issues. Hence the current need for legal clarity with the ombudsman, who has responsibilities of his own for the past.”