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PSNI chief constable has “no option” but to resign after mounting pressure, DUP member says

Simon Byrne has “no option” but to resign as chief constable of the PSNI, a DUP member of the Policing Board has said.

Pressure has been mounting on Mr Byrne over a range of issues this summer.

On Tuesday, a court ruled that two junior officers were unlawfully disciplined for an arrest made at a Troubles commemoration event.

The judge said they were disciplined to allay a threat that Sinn Féin could withdraw its support for policing.

It comes after a series of other incidents, including data breaches affecting PSNI officers and civilian staff.

Low morale within the service has been reported, with some staff saying they fear for their safety over the breaches.

On Wednesday, the DUP’s Trevor Clarke said Mr Byrne’s position had become “untenable”.

“It’s clear the officers don’t have confidence and now politicians don’t have confidence and clearly the public won’t have confidence, so I think if you work out the consequences from that the only option open to Simon is to resign at this stage,” he told BBC News NI’s Good Morning Ulster.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister had previously called for Mr Byrne to resign.

Fresh questions over Mr Byrne’s leadership were raised on Tuesday after a judge ruled that two junior PSNI officers were unlawfully disciplined for an arrest made at a commemoration on Belfast’s Ormeau Road in February 2021.

Mr Justice Scoffield quashed decisions to suspend one probationary constable and re-position his colleague.

A service marking the anniversary of the Sean Graham bookmakers attack in February 1992, in which five people were murdered and nine others injured by the UFF, was being held.

In February 2021 the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the scene took place amid restrictions on public gatherings due to Covid-19 regulations.

During that event, attended by up to 30 people, 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.

On Tuesday, Mr Justice Scoffield held: “I have been persuaded that the respondent imposed suspension in the first applicant’s case because of the threat (whether real or perceived) that, if it did not do so, republican support for policing would be withdrawn. 

“To reach a decision on that basis was in my view unlawful.”

Despite acknowledging the difficult situation in which the PSNI was placed, he concluded that the decision to move the second officer was also influenced by the same threat, real or perceived, that one party would quit Northern Ireland’s Policing Board unless the duty status of both probationary constables at the commemoration event was changed.

Lessons to be learnt

At the time, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, then-deputy first minister, tweeted about an apparent culture of double standards in the PSNI and of “turning a blind eye to UDA and UVF thugs, while targeting those laying flowers on the anniversary of loved ones”.

Reacting to the judgement, Mr Byrne said he accepted “there was a legal error in the way in which the public interest test was applied in deciding to suspend one officer and reposition another, rendering the action unlawful”.

He added: “It is important however to clarify that neither officer has been disciplined to date.

“This judgment relates to the decision to suspend one officer and reposition another whilst the Police Ombudsman conducted an investigation following a public complaint.

“We will of course take time to carefully consider the full judgment to ensure any lessons are learnt to prevent any future recurrence.”

(Source: BBC)

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