Four police officers suspended in a blaze of publicity over “racist and sectarian” text messaging have been quietly reinstated after spending up to 16 months at home on full pay.
In April 2012, deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie called a press conference at PSNI headquarters, announcing the action taken after “deeply offensive” texts were discovered on the officers’ phones.
The exchange of messages – which took place without any member of the public being affected – came to light when the phones were examined during an unrelated internal investigation.
Representatives of all main news outlets attended the packed media event and the suspensions were reported UK-wide.
Speaking during the press conference, DCC Gillespie said: “The message is going out loud and clear – this racist and sectarian behaviour will not be tolerated.”
It has now been revealed that the four officers have faced disciplinary hearings and are back on duty. None are believed to be of senior rank.
At the time, DCC Gillespie said the allegations would be treated with the utmost gravity and added: “I would be confident that if you had access to any of these texts you would find them deeply offensive.”
It has not been disclosed if the officers were on or off duty at the time of the texting, using PSNI issued phones, or if they had created the texts rather than passed on jokes or messages received.
In a subsequent statement, the PSNI said: “The police service is proud of its reputation for delivering a personal, professional and protective policing service to the people of Northern Ireland and we expect our staff to behave ethically and with the utmost integrity at all times both on and off duty. Any officer who fails to abide by the high standards of behaviour expected of all officers as laid out in our code of ethics can expect to be rigorously investigated.”
It has now been revealed that the officers involved are back on duty having been ordered to pay “substantial” fines by the PSNI.
Confirming their reinstatement, a police spokesman said: “Four police officers were suspended from duty in April 2012 following allegations of misconduct in relation to text messages.
“Internal misconduct proceedings were carried out. The investigation for three of the officers concluded in April 2013.
“The investigation into the fourth officer was concluded in July 2013. The officers involved have been disciplined accordingly and each received a substantial financial penalty.”
The spokesman added: “All four officers were suspended on full pay, as is legal procedure, and returned to duty following the completion of the internal investigation.”
The Police Federation has declined to comment. Last night the Policing Board had not responded to a request for comment.
According to PSNI figures, a total of 26 officers were suspended from duty as of last month.
Of those 26 – four inspectors, five sergeants, 15 constables and two part-time constables – the longest period of suspension is 27 months.
Seven of the officers are attached to Crime Branch and five to F District (Cookstown/Omagh/Dungannon/Fermanagh).
The alleged offences being investigated are listed as: inappropriate access of police systems; excess alcohol; abuse of authority; fraud; misconduct in public office; breach of firearms (NI) Order; sexual offence; criminal damage; disorderly behaviour; drug offence; providing misleading information to authorities; theft; harassment; perverting course of justice; mishandling of police property.
Overall there are around 7,500 officers in the PSNI.