Key Special Branch role identified by Watchdog"


The Andersonstown News has been told that one of the PSNI’s most prominent detectives, Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, is in charge of the ‘Tasking and Co-ordinating Group’ (TCG) for Special Branch.

The Police Oversight Commissioner, Al Hutchinson, made the disclosure during an in-depth interview following the publication of his 11th progress report on the implementation of the Patten recommendations.

It is believed to be the first time that Detective Chief Superintendent Wright’s current role in co-ordinating the activities of Special Branch (now known as C3) has been formally identified.

Over the past decade, Chief Superintendent Wright has risen to prominence in connection with a string of high-profile cases against mainstream republicans.

He is currently the most senior detective in the North and plays a central role in advising on the targets and priorities for investigations by the controversial Special Branch/Major Investigation Team (MIT – formerly known as REMIT).

The Force Level TCG – in which Chief Supt Wright now plays a lead role – is a key development within the PSNI’s newly established Crime Operations Department (COD).

As well as highlighting Chief Supt Wright’s current role, the Oversight Commissioner also explained that he had personally observed the TCG for Special Branch in session.

“Actually, I did attend one of those meetings, sat in and observed the Tasking and Co-ordinating Group as well, that is one where Phil Wright is in charge there. It’s chaired by the ACC.

“I was there one time and I observed an interaction and it looked fine to me, but I don’t know what happened the next day, but there is a co-ordinating group,” explained Mr Hutchinson.

In his report the Oversight Commissioner found that Special Branch’s staffing levels have only reduced by 17 per cent in the last five years – a figure which contrasts starkly with claims by some members of the Policing Board that Special Branch is down by 50 per cent.

And Mr Hutchinson also stated that the PSNI “has not provided” key statistics to him in relation to the way Special Branch allocates and uses its resources.

A key focus of Al Hutchinson’s report related to the number of Catholics in the PSNI’s civilian workforce which has risen from just 12.3 per cent of the total to 14.4 per cent in the last five years.

Meanwhile, the Policing Board also published its annual report this week, which revealed that the level of Catholic participation in the PSNI sat at just 11.9 per cent on January 1, 2004 – substantially behind the timetable laid down by Patten of 13.5 per cent by March 2004.

The SDLP’s Policing spokesperson, Alex Attwood, welcomed the report of the Policing Oversight Commissioner, stating that “it is proof positive of the pace of policing change”.

“All of this confirms that the SDLP called policing right and Sinn Féin keep getting it wrong. The SDLP also strongly agrees with the Oversight Commissioner’s concerns over the continued threat to DPP members, the need to make police and DPPs work even better, increasing civilianisation and reducing sickness, and the recent delay in registration of notifiable interests,” said Mr Attwood.

However, Sinn Féin’s Policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, said that more work is still needed before a new beginning to policing is achieved.

“The transfer of policing and justice powers is crucial to this.

“To have the new beginning to policing promised by the Patten report there must be maximum transfer of powers.

“Sinn Féin again put the vital issue of the transfer of powers on policing and justice at the centre of the Leeds Castle negotiations.

“It is our view that we will achieve our goals on policing and justice and that the tenure of both the oversight commissioner on policing and the oversight commissioner of criminal justice should be extended to complete the job.

“We don’t have accountable policing. We don’t have representative policing. As events this summer in Ardoyne and Lurgan proved, the problem of political policing remains,” said Mr Kelly.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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