Crime unit with just one constable ‘a smokescreen’

A tractor in PSNI colours
A tractor in PSNI colours

The PSNI’s Rural Crime Unit appeared to have been little more than a “smokescreen”, an MLA has said.

Robin Swann, North Antrim MLA for the Ulster Unionist Party, suggested that the matter of the now-defunct unit may be discussed by colleagues on Stormont’s agricultural committee when the Assembly reconvenes.

It was revealed last week by the News Letter that the unit – which was announced in 2013 by the then-Justice Minister Daivd Ford, leader of the Alliance Party – had only ever had two staff.

Mr Swann said: “The justice minister [then Alliance leader David Ford] continually referred to it when he was pushed about rural crime and what they were doing about it.

“His standard answer was that this crime unit had been established.”

Mr Swann said that the unit was “obviously a smokescreen”, designed to “make it look as if they were doing something”.

The Assembly is due to reconvene in two weeks’ time following its summer recess, and Mr Swann said the agricultural committee “should be taking an extreme interest in this”.

News that the unit no longer exists only emerged when Mr Swann asked the chief constable about its strength last Wednesday via Twitter.

The chief constable had replied that there “is no rural crime unit”.

The police then told the News Letter that there had only ever been two people in it when it had been running: a civilian data analyst (whose temporary contract was not renewed) and a police constable (who was since redeployed due to a lack of police manpower).

The Alliance Party had not responded to Mr Swann’s comments at time of writing.