Byrne: Preventing violence against women and girls ‘key priority for PSNI’

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(Chief Constable Simon Byrne/PA) (PA Media)
(Chief Constable Simon Byrne/PA) (PA Media)

Preventing violence against women and girls is one of the key priorities for police in Northern Ireland the chief constable has said.

Simon Byrne was speaking after expressing his horror at the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer in London earlier this year.

Appearing before the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the chief constable said he understands the damage caused to trust and confidence in policing across the UK, and revealed there is “anger, frustration and upset” among his officers at what happened to Ms Everard.

“For me and anyone that has chosen a career that seeks to help and protect their local community, it goes against everything that we stand for,” he said.

Sarah Everard (Family Handout/CPS/PA) (PA Media)
Sarah Everard (Family Handout/CPS/PA) (PA Media)

Mr Byrne said an action plan to tackle violence against women and girls will be launched in the near future, as well as “looking inwards” at internal processes “to make sure we’re doing everything we can to provide confidence and reassurance to women and girls across Northern Ireland”.

Asked how the PSNI prevents the appointment of rogue officers, Mr Byrne said the force has to look at how people are brought into the organisation as well as have a framework to allow people to raise the alarm.

Appearing alongside Mr Byrne, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said vetting is under way on all police officers who have not been subjected to vetting since they joined.

He said the anti-corruption unit receives regular intelligence about officer conduct.

He also told the Policing Board that covert and overt operations are carried out against officers suspected of corrupt or criminal activity.

Simon Byrne (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Simon Byrne (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“We will deploy all the techniques that we will deploy against any other criminal to try and catch those officers,” he said.

“That is all already in place and has been for a long time alongside a whistleblowing policy.”

A recent revelation that 39 PSNI officers had been investigated for alleged sexual misconduct in the last five years was raised at the meeting.

Mr Hamilton said two officers were dismissed.

“Of the current cases, we have six live cases that involve sexual conduct and seven domestic, which covers 12 people who are suspended around those,” he said.

“There are other cases which will include cases that have a sexual element or domestic violence element that the officers are repositioned and not suspended. Those decisions are made against the allegations in the case, the recency of them, the availability of evidence and so forth.

“Suspension and a repositioning are recourses which I have to make a decision on as part of the investigatory process and there is no blanket process around that and there is a framework that must be followed.”

He said there were instances in Northern Ireland where police officers “abused their authority for sexual purposes”, which “can’t be justified”.

He said no police officer should be “under any illusion about what is lawful and what is acceptable, what’s not, what’s proportionate, what’s ethical”, but he added the question for police is to do more.

“I am asking my team to look at whether or not our misconduct procedures are robust enough and we’ve asked them to do that and we’ll work with the DoJ (Department of Justice) around that,” he said.

He added: “This is a problem that affects not just the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Metropolitan Police but affects policing and affects public life.”

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