South Armagh policing: Organisation led by killer of Belfast corporals carried out community survey for PSNI report

TUV leader Jim Allister says it is “perverse” that the PSNI used an organisation led by a man jailed for killing two soldiers to carry out its main public opinion survey of policing in south Armagh.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 11:06 am
PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne during an interview at the Killeavy Castle Hotel, Newry, after briefing members of the South Armagh community on the details of the report on policing in the area.

The review, initiated by Chief Constable Simon Byrne, was prompted by an outcry from nationalists after he tweeted a photo of himself with heavily armed officers in Crossmaglen at Christmas 2019.

The subsequent PSNI report and recommendations, published this week, has caused anger among unionist representatives from the area, as it suggests closing Crossmaglen police station and moving memorials to slain RUC officers away from public view.

In March Mr Byrne caused controversy when it was revealed that a follow-up meeting about his Christmas tweet was carried out with, among others, Harry Maguire.

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Mr Maguire is the director of CRJ Ireland – which the PSNI report credits with carrying out the main community survey for the review.

He was given a life sentence for his role in the abduction and murder of Army corporals Derek Howes and David Wood in west Belfast in 1988, after they strayed into an IRA funeral.

The PSNI report says its Independent Community Survey of all villages and towns in south Armagh was facilitated by CRJ and received 502 responses. The survey found 80% of respondents do not think the PSNI always does the best for their community and that 89% do not think the PSNI treats people with respect. The report concluded that there were “significant trust and confidence issues with local policing” and made 50 recommendations for reforms.

However, a smaller online survey in the report – with only 22 responses – by the Policing and Community Safety Partnership, found almost overwhelmingly positive feedback. One young Crossmaglen man even credited the input from two community PSNI officers at a school event with influencing him not to take his life.

Mr Allister said: “Now we find that a report which has its origins in a tweet which offended republicans because the chief constable posed with a gun outside Crossmaglen PSNI station was put together with the help of the organisation Harry Maguire leads. How perverse that such an organisation should be handed a key role by the PSNI in the development of this report.”

The BBC’s ‘Nolan Show’ yesterday reported that the recommendations for south Armagh were signed off by senior PSNI management with a view to considering extending some of them to the whole of NI.

The PSNI declined to comment but said the chief constable will be discussing the matter at today’s Policing Board meeting, which it said was “his accountable body”.

CRJ Ireland and Sinn Fein were also invited to comment.

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