Baggott backs ACC Harris over Adams’ arrest

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable has delivered a stout defence of the senior commander responsible for the detectives who arrested Gerry Adams.

Matt Baggott told a Westminster committee that he considered PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris one of the most professional officers he had ever worked with.

His strong public statement of support for Mr Harris follows intense criticism of the police from Sinn Fein over the arrest of its party president in connection with the murder of Belfast mother-of-10 Jean McConville.

Sinn Fein is understood to be particularly angry with Mr Harris, who heads the Serious Crime Branch which is handling the McConville case.

Mr Adams, who vehemently denies any involvement in the crime, was released without charge after four days in custody but a police file is being passed to prosecutors to determine whether a prosecution will be pursued.

Mr Baggott was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry on a controversial Government scheme to deal with fugitive republicans.

But he was briefly asked to comment on the storm around the arrest of Mr Adams.

Mr Baggott took the opportunity to voice his support for Mr Harris, who was giving evidence alongside him.

“Can I just say this on the record, I am extremely proud to be associated with my colleague to my left,” he said.

“He is ultimately one of the most professional police officers that I have ever worked with and I think he has saved many lives.”

Mr Baggott had rejected comments from Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that the “dark side” of policing had orchestrated the arrest to damage his party.

And he reiterated that view.

“Comments of that nature are misplaced and inappropriate,” he said.

“We have a very strong track record of integrity in the PSNI, of following evidence, we do not have corruption in any shape or form as far as I can see, we do not have miscarriages of justice, we do not have allegations of brutality, we are the most human rights compliant organisation probably in the world.”

In regard to the McConville investigation, he earlier told committee members: “We are not afraid to be controversial and go where the evidence takes us and I will make tough decisions for as long as I am chief constable, so will Mr Harris.”