Northern Ireland

PSNI 'blind' to undercover Metropolitan Police officers operating in NI

Undercover officers from London Metropolitan Police were delopyed to Northern Ireland in the 1990s Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Undercover officers from London Metropolitan Police were delopyed to Northern Ireland in the 1990s

Undercover officers from the London Metropolitan Police operated in NI in the 1990s without the knowledge of local police, the PSNI has confirmed.

The undercover unit, called the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), infiltrated protest groups.

Ass Ch Const Mark Hamilton told the Policing Board nobody in the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the PSNI was aware of them.

He said they were "completely blind to their activities" and their presence.

"In October last year, the Metropolitan Police advised us that there was a potential that the SDS, as it was then known, had operated in Northern Ireland, unknown to us," said Mr Hamilton.

"We can't find any record that anybody in the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the PSNI were aware of the presence of these officers in Northern Ireland.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the RUC and PSNI were unaware of the undercover officers

"Nor were we aware of any information gathered being passed back to us for our use. We appear to be entirely blind to this."

The PSNI is currently working with the Metropolitan Police to assess whether or not the material that the SDS officers gathered has any relevance to historical or current investigations in Northern Ireland.

Mr Hamilton said he could reassure the Policing Board and the public that such a situation could not happen again.

He said that, from now on "the chief constable will be made aware of any police officer, from any jurisdiction, who's operating here" because any such officer, as well as their operation, would need to be risk-assessed.

'Act of madness'

"Those two risk assessments have to be carried out. Anybody who's deployed here without those assessments would be, in my view, an act of madness."

Mr Hamilton said that the PSNI do not know the reasons why the SDS were deployed in Northern Ireland.

He said that, to his understanding, the Northern Ireland SDS deployment is not currently part of the terms of reference for Sir Christopher Pitchford's inquiry into the role of undercover police officers in the Metropolitan Police.

"We wait to see where this goes. We were as surprised as you are," he added.

Sinn Féin policing board member Gerry Kelly asked how Mr Hamilton could be sure the situation could not arise in the future.

Mr Hamilton replied that "the landscape for covert policing has dramatically changed in the last 15 to 20 years" and that there are now procedures in place that did not exist in the 1980s and 1990s.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Undercover officers from London Metropolitan Police were delopyed to Northern Ireland in the 1990s

He said the news about the unit had broken partly because "it appeared to have been acting unilaterally", adding that the Metropolitan Police would equally have no desire to see a repeat of the situation.

"The review of undercover policing that has occurred in the last five years has completely changed the landscape for the deployment of these officers," he said.

"It's far more highly regulated. The chief constable himself is involved in the authorisation of undercover officers if they're deployed within 12 months. He has to authorise their initial operation so for the chief constable to be involved would almost be impossible to imagine."

The PSNI has now written to the Metropolitan Police encouraging them to have "a conversation" with An Garda Siochana to determine whether or not the SDS operated in the Republic of Ireland.

"All we know is what we didn't know - that they were here," said Mr Hamilton. "That's really a matter for the Metropolitan Police Service."

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