PFNI chair ‘disgusted and angry’ that chief constable is considering appeal against Judicial Review ruling

The chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) says he is “disgusted, disillusioned and extremely angry” that Chief Constable Simon Byrne is considering an appeal against a Judicial Review ruling.

Aug 31, 2023
By Paul Jacques
PFNI chair Liam Kelly

Mr Byrne said he was “carefully reviewing the full judgement” following an unprecedented emergency meeting with the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) on Thursday (August 31), which stretched to almost seven hours.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) chief constable also said he was not resigning.

Earlier this week, the PFNI said “serious questions” have to be asked of the decision-making of the PSNI after it won a Judicial Review into actions taken against probationer officers involved in the Ormeau Road ‘Covid-related incident’ in 2021.

One officer was suspended and the other repositioned. The High Court said the actions were “unlawful” and quashed the measures. In addition, the court said the chief constable “bent to political pressure” in the process.

Mr Byrne had said he accepted the findings of the court.

PFNI chair Liam Kelly said the chief constable has now gone “volte face” by considering an appeal against the High Court ruling after publicly accepting the decision.

“Our members and representatives have already expressed disbelief and anger at the hugely disappointing and unexpected statement from the chief constable,” said Mr Kelly.

“He has previously publicly accepted the Judicial Review ruling, but now has gone volte face and is considering appealing it.

“If he does appeal, we expect he will use the PSNI budget which is already stretched to breaking point.

“In effect, he would be appealing against his own actions against his own officers, dragging this matter out both internally and externally.

“This has infuriated and antagonised the rank and file further and once again the two officers at the centre of the case are being treated disdainfully. It is hugely damaging to officer morale and confidence and has to be condemned.”

Earlier on Thursday, the PFNI said it had called an “extraordinary meeting” of its Executive Central Committee next week to discuss the outcome of the Judicial Review and “recent events incorporating members’ concerns with the PSNI and its senior leadership team”.

These are likely to include the “unprecedented and industrial-scale” data breach on August 8 which resulted in the personal details of 9,483 officers and staff mistakenly being published online in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Two other breaches were subsequently made public, including the loss of a police officer’s laptop and notebook containing details of 42 police officers and members of staff after the items fell from a moving vehicle on the M2 last week.

Separately, on July 6, in an unrelated incident, a police-issue laptop and radio, as well as a document containing the names of more than 200 staff, were stolen from a private vehicle in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.

“I had hoped to refrain from saying anything publicly until the extraordinary meeting of my Executive Central Committee next Wednesday (September 6),” said Mr Kelly.

“However, such is the outrage that has been expressed by the rank and file, on behalf of the two officers and my colleagues, I feel I have no other option but to call it out – in short I am disgusted, disillusioned and extremely angry.”

The Judicial Review was in respect of an incidenton the Ormeau Road in February 2021 where a service marking the anniversary of the February 1992 Sean Graham bookmakers attack, in which five people were murdered and nine others injured by the UFF, was being held.

The annual wreath-laying ceremony at the scene took place amid restrictions on public gatherings due to Covid-19 regulations.

During that event, one man, who had been shot and injured in the 1992 attack, was detained on suspicion of disorderly behaviour and put in handcuffs.

He was later released without charge.

Although the suspension and re-positioning decisions were lifted later that year following a review, backed by the PFNI both constables applied for a Judicial Review into the lawfulness of the disciplinary moves.

In a statement, the NIPB said: “Today members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board held a special meeting to question the chief constable and deputy chief constable on the findings of the judgment delivered by Justice Scoffield on the decisions taken on the suspension of officers following an incident on the Ormeau Road on February 5, 2021.

“During an intensive meeting, questions focused around specific commentary within the judgment with both the chief constable and deputy chief constable accounting for the discussions, actions and decisions that were taken at that time in an incident that was deemed to be ‘critical for policing’.

“It was important for the Board to question and seek clarity on matters within the judgement given the legal and leadership responsibilities placed on the chief constable and deputy chief constable.

“At today’s discussions it has become clear that there are now legal issues that the Board needs to consider and receive advice on. These will be progressed urgently as the issues under consideration are of such gravity.

“As such the Board is unable to make further comment.”

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