A High Court judge ruled on Tuesday that two junior officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) were unlawfully disciplined following an arrest made at a memorial event commemorating the Sean Graham bookmakers attack. The incident took place on the anniversary of the 1992 attack, during which five people were killed and nine others injured.
The PSNI faced criticism for its handling of the event, and the two officers were suspended and re-positioned as a result. However, Mr Justice Scoffield ruled that these disciplinary actions were high-handed, unwarranted, and excessive. He stated that the decision to suspend one officer and re-position his colleague was influenced by the threat of Sinn Fein withdrawing its support for policing in Northern Ireland. The judge emphasized that this reasoning was unlawful and a result of the pressure to appease political interests.
The ruling questions the decision-making process of the PSNI’s Senior Executive Team, according to the Police Federation. The Federation, which represents rank-and-file police officers, argued that the initial actions taken against the officers were disproportionate. It called for the PSNI to expedite the disciplinary process for one of the officers who remains under investigation.
Chief Constable Simon Byrne had previously apologized for the incident and the disciplinary measures that were taken. He explained that the actions were taken to defuse a critical incident and maintain public confidence in the reformed police service of Northern Ireland. However, the court ruled that the PSNI’s response was influenced by political pressure and not based on a fair assessment of the officers’ actions.
The judicial review concluded that the suspension of the first officer was imposed due to the perceived threat of Sinn Fein withdrawing support for policing. The judge deemed this decision to be unlawful. He also found that the decision to re-position the second officer was influenced by the same perceived threat.
The court’s ruling rectifies an injustice and highlights the need for fair and unbiased decision-making within the PSNI. The Police Federation welcomed the outcome of the case, stating that it reaffirms the perception that rank-and-file officers do not have the backing of senior management when carrying out their duties.