‘Nothing to suggest’ PSNI could have stopped Castlereagh break-in

There is no evidence senior officers allowed the theft of “extremely sensitive” information from a police station to protect an informant, an investigation has found.

Sep 28, 2017

There is no evidence senior officers allowed the theft of “extremely sensitive” information from a police station to protect an informant, an investigation has found. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) rejected claims that officers knew about plans to break in to Castlereagh police station in 2002, or could have prevented the incident. The investigation – launched in response to allegations by a retired Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Special Branch officer – also found no indication the raid was an ‘inside job’. Suspicion for the incident still rests on the IRA. Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: “There was nothing to suggest that police had received any specific information that would have allowed them to prevent or disrupt the burglary. “In fact, everything suggests that that was not the case. The only information of a possible security threat that we found in police records was general and non-specific in nature, and offered nothing which would have allowed police to take preventative measures.” In March 2002, a number of assailants overpowered an officer at Castlereagh police station and stole classified information from a facility known as ‘Room 220’. In the raid’s aftermath, several former officers sued the chief constable for negligence after learning their names were among the stolen records. One former officer, known as ‘Man A’, alleged the PSNI had advance warning of the break-in but allowed it to go ahead to protect an informant’s cover within the IRA. The PONI launched an investigation into the claims in 2015 and interviewed Man A, who had retired from the PSNI the previous year after spending more than 25 years in Special Branch. He said a colleague had told him the PSNI knew the IRA was planning to break into Castlereagh police station but provided no documentary evidence to support this allegation. The unnamed colleague told the PONI that some PSNI officers had speculated about the force’s knowledge of the raid but he had dismissed these claims. He added that Man A must have been confused about what he heard. Other officers interviewed by the PONI described the allegations as a “complete fabrication” and another questioned Man A’s credibility. The PONI also found that although the PSNI had initially considered the possibility the theft had involved members of the security services or military, suspicion quickly shifted to the IRA. It added that the PSNI held information of “potential relevance” prior to the burglary, but nothing containing specific details about the nature of the threat or how it might be prevented.

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