Policing Board meeting only ‘scratched surface’ on data leak

The DUP’s Policing Spokesperson Trevor Clarke MLA has said the PSNI must work at pace to ascertain the extent of risk facing individual police officers and staff as a result of the unprecedented data breach earlier this week.

By Trevor Clarke MLA

South Antrim

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Commenting after an emergency meeting of the Policing Board on Thursday, the South Antrim DUP MLA said:

‘‘This breach was on an industrial scale, and we will likely not know the full extent of the impact for some time. From speaking with police officers, it is clear their foremost concern is for the safety of their loved ones. However there is also palpable anger that such an error could have occurred in the first place.

I recognise that the Chief Constable has fronted up and apologised. However, among those directly affected inside and outside the organisation he will ultimately be judged on actions, not words. Trust has been eroded and must be restored.

The PSNI needs to devise a clear plan to identify ongoing risks posed to individual officers due to the disclosure of this information. It is not enough to assess threats today or tomorrow when the nature of the data in the public domain - and potentially in the hands of terrorists - is such that officers may be jeopardised months, and even years, later.

Today’s meeting provided limited answers and in truth we only scratched the surface. This will continue to be on the agenda until we get to the bottom of this issue.

We are told that this disclosure was the result of human error by a junior member of staff. It would seem inconceivable that such sensitive data could be generated and published under the control of any one individual. Therefore we need to know why safeguards to prevent such a breach were either inadequate or ignored.

I was disappointed that not all senior PSNI staff were present at today’s meeting. Many hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, have been spent to overhaul the operation and administration of the PSNI and make it more efficient. Professionals from outside the police family were recruited specifically for this purpose. Therefore it is right and proper that when something goes wrong they too are subject to high levels of accountability.’’

Policing Board representative and East Belfast DUP MLA Joanne Bunting added:

‘‘The circumstances of this incident must be forensically examined to establish exactly what went wrong and ensure it is never repeated. We would expect both the Chief Constable, Chief Operating Officer, and all those under their control, to cooperate proactively with any investigation.

Our primary concern at this time, however, remains with those officers and staff identified by this breach. Priority must continue to be given to ensuring every individual affected receives the practical support needed to ensure any risk to their safety and that of their family is mitigated.

In recent months, concern expressed by rank-and-file officers has been rising. Budget cuts, issues around pay, pensions and access to occupational health services have all had a debilitating impact on morale and wellbeing. Indeed it is inevitable that this week’s fiasco will lead to more officers opting out of a career in policing.

That is simply not good enough. The PSNI leadership must get to grips with this situation, restore confidence and be the employer our dedicated and hard-working officers and staff deserve.’’

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