Northern Ireland police chief vows to stay on after huge data leak

Northern Ireland police chief vows to stay on after huge data leak

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Northern Ireland’s police chief said he would continue in his post after a major blunder in which personal details of all serving officers was published online, jeopardising their safety.

Asked whether he was intending to quit, Simon Byrne, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, told the Financial Times: “No, I am not.”

The PSNI described Tuesday’s incident, which revealed information on some 10,000 officers and staff, as “regrettable but it is simple human error”.

But Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank-and-file police officers, called the breach “monumental” and said it had angered and worried his members.

Police were routinely targeted in terror attacks during the three decades-long Troubles in Northern Ireland involving republican paramilitaries fighting to reunite Ireland, loyalist gunmen battling to keep the region within the UK, and British security forces.

But even 25 years after a landmark peace deal, the police still face threats and some officers do not tell relatives where they work. An off-duty senior detective investigating organised and paramilitary crime narrowly escaped a murder attempt by dissident republicans in February.

A month later, the terror threat in Northern Ireland was raised to “severe” — its second-highest level.

“Being a police officer in Northern Ireland is somewhat unique in relation to the threat that is imposed upon our officers both on and off duty,” Kelly told BBC Radio Ulster. “The trust from our officers is broken by this.”

In Tuesday’s incident, surnames, ranks and work locations — but not home addresses — of officers and staff, including some working in intelligence, were published on a public site after a freedom of information request.

The FOI request had sought a breakdown of PSNI officers and staff by rank and grade. In error, a full spreadsheet was included.

The data was taken down within three hours but news reports said some of it had already been shared on social media messaging groups.

The policing board, an independent oversight body, will meet on Thursday morning to discuss the incident as fears multiplied for serving officers. Chris Heaton-Harris, the UK’s Northern Ireland secretary, said he was “deeply concerned”.

“What we really need at this stage is a focus on the 10,000 names and I want a realistic assessment of the threat level against them, particularly those who are working in specialist areas like undercover with MI5, with the National Crime Agency,” said Mike Nesbitt, the Ulster Unionist party’s representative on the Northern Ireland policing board.

“They are acutely aware that the [terror] threat level [in the region] is now severe,” he told BBC Radio Ulster, adding that “they need to be told in realistic terms the implications”.

The debacle comes as Northern Ireland is facing a budgetary and political crisis. Byrne has already warned that the PSNI faces a €38mn funding gap and falling police numbers. The region’s power-sharing executive and assembly has been paralysed for more than a year in a row over Brexit.