‘Difference of opinion’ among top police on moving officer after Covid cover row

There was a difference of opinion between the most senior officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland about moving a commander from Londonderry following a row over working practices during the pandemic.

Former chief superintendent Emma Bond had been the first female police commander in Derry.

She become embroiled in a row after informing her superiors that dozens of officers did not report for duty in the district over a two-week period in April 2020, while still getting paid.

They believed they were allowed to be on stand-by from home.

Disciplinary notices against the officers were halted by Chief Constable Simon Byrne following legal advice.

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Emma Bond (Stephen Hamilton/Presseye)

Ms Bond confronted the officers about the matter and later became the target for complaints, and a disciplinary notice was made against her before being withdrawn.

She was later transferred to a role in the police training college before leaving the service in February 2022 following a 23-year career.

Ms Bond, who was made an MBE for service to policing in 2019, is now an assistant chief constable with Police Scotland.

She has taken an employment tribunal against the PSNI, arguing she was discriminated against by the service because she is a woman and as a result was removed from her command position in Derry.

Giving evidence to the tribunal, Mr Byrne insisted the decision to move Ms Bond from Derry was taken in her interests, and was neither a punishment nor any reflection on her competence.

Mr Byrne also revealed that shortly after taking up the chief role in the PSNI, he recommended that a more senior officer should lead the police team in Derry.

He said in 2019 the lead officer was “not sufficiently senior to deal with the challenges, threats and complexity” of the role.

Ms Bond was appointed to the role in January 2020.

The tribunal heard Ms Bond was keen to remain in Derry, describing an “unfinished job” that she could complete.

In his second day of evidence the chief constable said he had generally been concerned for Ms Bond’s welfare at the point, pointing to a demanding role, long hours and hours of travelling every day to Derry from where she was based.

He said the police college role she went to was a “challenging and meaningful role” and would help Ms Bond gain further professional development for future promotion to senior management.

“It was not a punishment and it was not a reflection of no confidence,” he told the tribunal hearing.

“This post, in my view, was a key opportunity to do just that because it was about innovation and transformation. She wouldn’t have had that experience had the claimant stayed in Derry city and Strabane which was about operational policing.

“This is about the best interests of the claimant … I spent considerable time listening to her aspirations and ambition, offering her opportunities to get different perspectives and professional development. She had already had plenty of operational experience, if her ambition was to attend the next assessment centre, this would give her additional evidence to support that.”

Coronavirus – Tue Mar 30, 2021
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd (Liam McBurney/PA)

However, assistant chief constable Alan Todd said he argued for Ms Bond to remain in Derry while he gave evidence to the tribunal in Belfast on Monday.

He gave this perspective during a meeting of senior police around the movement of several officers, including Ms Bond.

“As a matter of policy I don’t like commanders to move unnecessarily,” he said, raising the matter of continuity and having established teams.

“I had some concerns that one of my senior commanders would be moved whilst under investigation, whilst that wasn’t the driver for the decision, I did raise it as the possible perception of others.

“I also accept that routinely decisions get made that aren’t in line with things I have proposed. It’s an unpredictable process at best.”

Mr Todd also told the tribunal that he does not believe Ms Bond’s reputation was tainted by the disciplinary notice.

He said it was “awkward” to operate in those circumstances but added: “It’s the nature of senior positions to find yourself in that space from time to time.”

The hearing continues.