Northern Ireland

Police from outside Northern Ireland to probe ombudsman theft

Police Ombudsman
Image caption It is understood the former investigator retired several years ago

A police force from outside NI is to take over an investigation into the alleged theft and disclosure of sensitive security documents from the office of the Police Ombudsman.

An inquiry was launched last month when the PSNI became aware that a legal firm had unlawfully been given confidential documents from the office.

A 69-year-old man who formerly worked as an investigator for the ombudsman was arrested in England.

He was later released on bail.

The PSNI has confirmed that an independent police service is to be appointed to take over the investigation.

"Steps have been taken to ensure independent advice has been available to the PSNI investigation since it commenced," Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin told the BBC.

"Furthermore, we are now actively seeking to appoint another police service to independently lead the investigation."

Image caption ACC Stephen Martin said another police service was being sought to lead the investigation

The new investigation team is expected to be appointed within a matter of weeks.

The decision was taken because of concerns about a conflict of interest as the ombudsman is responsible for investigating allegations of wrong doing by PSNI officers and former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

'Potentially endanger lives'

At least eight former RUC officers are known to have been named in the documents given to the legal firm, which are believed to be part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of police misconduct.

The PSNI and security service MI5 believe the material could potentially endanger lives.

The police refused to comment on whether the investigation is confined to documents relating to one case being investigated by the ombudsman's office or has been widened to include other cases.

"The PSNI is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further," ACC Martin said.

The PSNI has suspended the release of sensitive material linked to dozens of cases currently being investigated by the ombudsman's office until a review of security protocols is carried out.

In addition to the police investigation, the Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire has referred the alleged theft and unlawful disclosure of documents to the information commissioner.

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure has also been asked to carry out a health check in respect of information handling processes within his office.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said: ""It would appear the theft at the centre of this investigation was something which happened around 10 years ago.

"Even so, we are now looking to bring in the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure to carryout out a review, which hopefully will give an independent assurance that our present day systems for handling material are robust."

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