Police lives in peril after document leak

Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman. (Picture Colm O'Reilly Presseye)

Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman. (Picture Colm O'Reilly Presseye)

Root and branch reform of the Police Ombudsman’s office is needed following the suspected theft of ‘sensitive documents’, a UUP MP has said.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, meanwhile, say the documents in question contain information so sensitive that lives may be placed at risk. Chairman Mark Lindsay is calling for a “full inquiry”.

A number of retired officers are considering legal action against the Ombudsman after their personal details were leaked, the BBC reported last night.

A lawyer for the officers told the BBC his clients disputed claims that the leak was connected to a historic case and said there was a link to an ongoing ombudsman inquiry.

The PSNI, for their part, say they will no longer share sensitive information with the Ombudsman’s office, although Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin told the News Letter in a statement this is only for a “temprorary period of review”.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott said the release of the documents to lawyers has the “potential to drive a coach and horses through the reputation of the Ombudsman’s office.”

A 69-year-old man, understood to have been a former investigator with the Police Ombudsman’s office, was arrested in Dartford, Kent, on Sunday in relation to the issue but has since been released on bail.

Police Federation NI Chairman, Mark Lindsay, said: “There is more than enough justification for a high-level inquiry into the manner in which PONI (Police Ombudsman’s Office Northern Ireland) treats some of the most sensitive information. It doesn’t get much more serious than this. his is an astounding and very worrying state of affairs.

“The sensitive documents in question identify Police officers and potentially place lives at risk.”

Mr Lindsay, whose organisation represents rank and file police officers in Northern Ireland, said: “We are extremely concerned over this alleged theft of sensitive documents. There is a criminal investigation underway, but in a wider sense, I am concerned at the operation of the PONI.

“If PONI cannot be trusted with sensitive information, then there’s a good case to be made to restrict the data.

“There should be a full investigation by Information Commissioner into what appears to be a blatant breach of the Data Protection Act and the incident should also be reported to the Oversight Commissioner, who has responsibility for all information obtained under investigative techniques.”

He continued: “In the recent past, we’ve called for a full inquiry into the operation of PONI. We now repeat that call. A full inquiry into the operation of the Police Ombudsman has now become a minimum requirement, in order that both the public and police officers alike can have confidence in the office. PONI appears to act without proper oversight or accountability and this must not continue.”

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott said: “These are shocking revelations. The alleged unauthorised release of sensitive information to lawyers is a gross betrayal of trust and has the potential to drive a coach and horses through the reputation of the Ombudsman`s office.