Patten: NI police reform best thing I did

Lord Patten said 'taking the policing out of politics' was a considerable step forward
Lord Patten said 'taking the policing out of politics' was a considerable step forward

Lord Patten, who oversaw recommendations which transformed the RUC into the PSNI, has said it was “the best thing I ever did”.

As a Conservative politician Chris Patten chaired the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland which was established in 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement. It made 175 recommendations to transform the RUC into the PSNI.

He also oversaw the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China and was chairman of the BBC Trust when the Jimmy Savile scandal engulfed the BBC.

Among his RUC recommendations in 1999 were: renaming the force; a new oath committing officers to uphold human rights; a new cap badge and symbols; removing the Union Flag from police buildings; cutting the force to 7,500 and recruiting equal proportions from each community.

Mr Patten gave an interview to the BBC Nolan Show on Wednesday after launching his memoir ‘First Confession’.

One caller to the show said: “That man Patten destroyed the RUC.”

Asked if he could have handled the reforms better, Mr Patten replied: “I think with colleagues Maurice Hayes, Peter Smith, Kathy O’Toole, John Smith and others [who served on the Independent Commission on Policing], I think it is the best thing I ever did.”

A lot fewer police officers have been killed since the reforms, he said.

The peer said that “taking the policing out of politics” and moving from a situation where “the police were an arm of the state into a situation where they protected everybody’s human rights” was a considerable step forward.

He added: “I pay great credit to the police officers in Northern Ireland, to the politicians in Northern Ireland who after a lot of huffing and puffing actually helped to make that happen.

“I think it has been a terrific achievement and it is very central part of all that was intended under the Belfast Agreement.”

More than 10,000 people attended his public consultations on the new police service, which he saw as “a sort of reconciliation process, because people from both sides of the community ... told terrible stories about their experiences during the Troubles”.

He added: “I think Northern Ireland has to find a way of finding peace with itself and find a way in which it doesn’t want to parade its differences in front of other people just in order to annoy them.”

Asked if the DUP and Sinn Fein can do that, he said: “I would hope so but it is extremely difficult.”

They have both replaced mainstream parties, he said.

“So there is a big responsibility on them to show that they can be grown up.”