Security inquiry ordered into raid on Special Branch offices

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The Independent Online

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid today launched an independent probe into a break–in at Special Branch offices in a Belfast police station amid growing fears over national security.

The inquiry into the raid at the top–security Castlereagh complex is to run in tandem with a criminal investigation, which is examining if highly sensitive files were stolen.

Dr Reid confirmed that a "distinguished" figure from the UK would head the new effort.

"The purpose of this wider examination will be to establish how this incident came to happen and to assess any damage to national security," he said.

Police confirmed today that "some documentation" was missing following a break–in at the Special Branch offices.

A high level team has been set up by Northern Ireland Police Service Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan to assess any possible impact that the loss of the material could cause.

In a separate move Sir Ronnie referred the matter to the Police Ombudsman who, he said, would keep in close contact with the senior officer investigating the matter.

The Chief Constable, who is retiring shortly, also disclosed that the officer heading the criminal investigation was Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, who is in charge of Criminal Investigation in the greater Belfast area.

A Police Service statement said: "It has been confirmed that some documentation is missing and a high level team has been set up to assess any possible impact that this could potentially cause.

"It would be utterly wrong to comment on the detail of this documentation."

The statement added: "In a further move the Chief Constable has referred the matter to the Police Ombudsman who will keep in close touch with the Senior Investigating Officer.

"This does not indicate that a judgment has been made, or that there is any evidence to suggest the commission of a criminal or disciplinary offence by any police officer.

"The Chief Constable has briefed the chairman of the Policing Board on these developments and will of course keep the Board continuously updated."

It is thought three men infiltrated Castlereagh police station on Sunday night and attacked and tied up a lone Special Branch officer.

Suspicion is growing that some form of internal involvement was needed in the robbery.

Forensic experts were today continuing to comb the building to try to find clues to the culprits. Sir Ronnie is expected to reveal further details on the attack later today.

Denis Bradley, vice chairman of the Policing Board, said the break–in had created a difficult situation which went right to the heart of security in Northern Ireland.

"This is a very difficult moment because this goes right to the heart of intelligence and security.

"If we are not getting it right there, and if there are difficulties, then there are obvious major implications that have to be looked at, that have to be examined and managed in a way that is protective of the public but also fair to the public in the sense that they have some kind of confidence in new policing," he said.