Watchdog to probe Castlereagh security breach claims


A watchdog is investigating a claim police allowed one of Northern Ireland’s biggest ever security breaches to happen in order to protect a paramilitary agent.

The suspected IRA raiders stole highly sensitive documents when they broke into Castlereagh police station in east Belfast in 2002.

Among the top-secret information taken was a list of officers who worked in the police’s Special Branch intelligence unit, along with contact details, and the code names of paramilitary agents and their handlers.

Dozens of officers were forced to move house amid fears their security had been compromised.

Claims the break-in was an inside job, potentially involving rogue Special Branch officers and IRA agents, have been circulating for years.

Now a former Special Branch officer whose details were stolen has come forward to make an official complaint alleging the police allowed the break-in to happen.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton has referred the allegation to the region’s independent police complaints watchdog, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).

Belfast-based lawyer Kevin Winters represents the former police officer making the claims.

“We act on behalf of an ex-Special Branch officer who made a request to PSNI to investigate his allegations that the Castlereagh break-in 2002 was allowed to happen,” he said.

“We wrote to the Chief Constable’s office in June 2015 requesting confirmation that our client be treated as a victim of crime given that his personal details formed part of the material stolen from the centre.

“The PSNI have since confirmed to us that the matter has been referred to the Police Ombudsman’s office for investigation.

“In the meantime we have received formal notification from PONI that they want to meet with the complainant.

“Our client will attend with PONI in the next two weeks to provide his formal statement of complaint alleging criminality.

“He claims that the circumstances surrounding the theft of the material are deeply disturbing and put his life and that of his family at risk.

“He remains very concerned by the manner in which the authorities have investigated the crime and his allegations since 2002.

“He remains determined to assist PONI and any other inquiry arising.”

A spokesman for the PONI said: “We can confirm that we have received a referral from the Chief Constable relating to an allegation from a former police officer that the break-in at the Castlereagh Police Station was allowed to take place.”

A spokesman for the PSNI said: “It would be inappropriate to comment as this allegation is currently being investigated by the Ombudsman.”