Patten Report: RUC anger at `betrayal' of 302 dead officers

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The Independent Online
A TOTAL of 302 serving Royal Ulster Constabulary officers have died in the Troubles of the past 30 years. The first was Victor Arbuckle, killed by loyalists in 1969, the most recent was Frank O'Reilly, also murdered by loyalists, last October.

Yesterday their faces, alongside those of their murdered colleagues, stared down from the wall of the Police Federation headquarters as officials spoke of Chris Patten's "betrayal" of those who died.

"Our members do feel a sense of betrayal," said the federation chairman, Les Rodgers, whose organisation represents the majority of rank-and-file officers. "The RUC has earned the right to police into the next millennium with the name it already has."

There is much in yesterday's proposals that the federation disagrees with. It believes, for instance, that allowing district authorities to supplement the force by "buying in services" could give people previously involved in terrorism a stake in policing. Likewise it is concerned about the role of the new police board, arguing that the independence of the chief constable would be undermined.

But it is the planned name change to the Northern Ireland Police Service, as well as the abandonment of other symbolism, that appears particularly to anger officers.

Mr Patten said he believed that the symbolism of the RUC, including the flying of the Union flag outside police stations, stood in the way of creating a force acceptable to both loyalists and nationalists. He said the police could not be seen to be political.

But the federation said the symbolism was something its officers were proud of. "We have made it clear all along that we do not believe there is any substantive argument for the name to be abandoned," Mr Rodgers said. "Its loss amounts to a repudiation of the professionalism, courage and sacrifice of our police officers."

The symbolism associated with the RUC was on clear display yesterday at the federation's headquarters in Hollywood, on the outskirts of Belfast: the Union flag was flying, a big photograph of the Queen was on the wall and the force's crest of crown, harp and shamrock was on view.

Just 8 per cent of RUC officers are Catholic, but Mr Rodgers claimed all officers felt the same way about the proposed reforms. "I can assure you they all feel a sense of pride serving with the RUC and the symbolism associated with it."