09 June 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Concern at MI5 role in police intelligence
Watchdog raises worries at handover

By Chris Thornton and Jonathan McCambridge
09 June 2005

The Government's plan to hand responsibility for intelligence to MI5 raised concerns today with police reform watchdog Al Hutchinson.

Mr Hutchinson warned that the plan to take intelligence primacy away from the PSNI and hand it to MI5 could undermine Patten reforms and hurt the fight against organised crime.

Mr Hutchinson, issuing the 13th regular report on police reform today, described Sinn Fein's refusal to support policing as "an impediment" to reform.

The former Canadian Mounted Police chief said 114 out of 175 recommendations from the 1999 Patten report have now been realised. He described the doubling of Catholic representation in the force as a success story but warned that police, media and the community need to address the gap between falling crime and a rise in public fears about crime.

MI5 is due to take over primary responsibility for intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland in 2007.

Mr Hutchinson said he raised concerns about the plan because "I do not want to see Patten undermined".

"For very specific reasons, Patten went about setting up a number of recommendations about Special Branch, security and a force within a force," he said.

He said those changes - while still incomplete - have improved the accountability of Special Branch and the use of intelligence in combating crime.

"I do not want to see that effectiveness changed by a switch to the Security Services or MI5, he said.

"We don't want to end up inadvertently recreating what we had before, where you have an impenetrable wall between intelligence gathering and the needs of the community.

"The caveat to this is that we haven't seen any detail.

"The element of transparency is important, and at the same time you don't want to destroy effective policing."

Mr Hutchinson said full political support for policing - a veiled reference to Sinn Fein's refusal to back policing - is holding back further progress.

"We've generally skated around this but we're now at the stage where it really is the issue," he said. "I won't say it's a blockage but it is an impediment to the further progress that people want on the streets."

But Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said concerns about MI5 vindicated his party's refusal to consider support for policing until after the publication of a bill to transfer policing and justice powers to Stormont.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde said the time is now right for discussions with Government on how to fully implement the Patten Report.

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