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Temporary PSNI chief says there is a ‘big list of things to be sorted’

Jon Boutcher said he wanted the PSNI to get back to doing what it does best.

The new interim chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said there is a “big list of things which need to be sorted” in the force.

Jon Boutcher, the former police chief of Bedfordshire, said he wanted the PSNI to get back to what it does best “which is policing and keeping people safe”.

The PSNI vacancy arose with the resignation of Simon Byrne after a number of controversies.

These included a significant data breach in which the personal details of all officers and staff were mistakenly published online, and a critical High Court ruling that said two junior officers had been unlawfully disciplined for their actions at a Troubles commemoration event.

The Police Federation said that the temporary chief constable has a “frightening in-tray”.

Mr Boutcher confirmed when he spoke to the media in Belfast that he has stepped down from his position as head of Operation Kenova, which has been investigating the activities of Stakeknife, the Army’s top agent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Simon Byrne
Simon Byrne resigned as PSNI chief constable following a number of controversies (Liam McBurney/PA)

He would not comment on whether he has applied for the permanent chief constable position.

Mr Boutcher said: “Having worked in Northern Ireland for a number of years now, I am aware of the challenges the organisation faces and how distracting and frustrating recent events have been for everybody.

“The PSNI needs a period of stability and to simply be allowed to get on with doing the job they do best, which is policing.

“The staff should know they have my full support in doing that.

“Northern Ireland is a unique operating environment for policing in the United Kingdom and everybody should be immensely proud of the PSNI and the commitment, professionalism and the bravery of its staff.”

Asked about the challenges he faces, Mr Boutcher said: “There is quite a big list of things that need to be sorted.

“I think we all know the officers and staff have been through a really difficult time.

“My immediate position is to reassure them that they have got my confidence and that they are doing an outstanding job.

“So let’s get back to doing what we do best, which is policing and keeping people safe.

“There is a big list that we could go into about various things which need to be addressed and I will start tackling that next week.”

Police Federation chairman Liam Kelly said he hoped Mr Boutcher’s appointment would bring some “badly needed stability” to the PSNI.

He added: “The in-tray that awaits him is frightening.

“He will have to tackle the fallout from the data breaches as well as the loss of trust and confidence from the Judicial Review which found that his predecessor and the current deputy chief constable acted unlawfully in the case of the two officers involved in the Ormeau Road incident.

“An important first step towards re-building officer morale and restoring internal confidence would be an early announcement by Mr Boutcher that he will not be appealing the judicial review decision. ”

The new interim chief constable has said he would make a decision very quickly on any appeal against the High Court ruling.

Jon Boutcher new interim chief constable of the PSNI
Policing Board chairwoman Deirdre Toner joins Jon Boutcher in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Boutcher previously applied to become PSNI chief constable in 2019 but lost out to Mr Byrne.

The job advertisement for the temporary role said the successful candidate will be in the post for a minimum of three months, with the potential for further extension.

The salary is £219,894 a year.

Applications for the permanent chief constable role will close on October 16.

Northern Ireland’s new police chief will have a number of issues to deal with, including a budget crisis.

Senior officers have estimated that security and legal costs from the major data breach could potentially cost the force £240 million.

Last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling on a long-running legal claim over holiday pay, which could see the force having to make back payments of tens of millions of pounds.

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