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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Police officer gagged in station attack
Incident was at the special branch area in the centre
Incident was at the special branch area in the centre
An investigation is under way at Castlereagh police centre in Belfast after a police officer was tied up by a gang which burst into an office.

The police said a number of men forced their way into a special branch office, where there was a single officer.

The incident happened just after 2200 GMT on Sunday.

The special branch officer, a detective constable, was assaulted and tied up.


What chance do the ordinary punters have of security if one of the most secure police establishments in Northern ireland can be broken into in such a way

Sammy Wilson DUP

Sources say his mouth was taped and his head covered.

Three people were involved in the incident and there are suggestions that one of them had an English accent.

The area around the office has now been sealed off and the entire Castlereagh complex is being searched.

DUP assembly member, Sammy Wilson, who is a member of the Policing Board said he had serious concerns about security at Castlereagh.

Security breach

"People who have given information to special branch and understood it was given in the strictest confidence would have grave concerns," he said.

"But if a police station can be robbed in this way, what chance do the ordinary punters who are manning petrol stations late at night, people manning post office counters have of security if one of the most secure police establishments in Northern ireland can be broken into in such a way?"

Jimmy Spratt, chairman of the Police Federation, said he would be meeting senior police officers on Tuesday to discuss the incident.

"There is a very high level investigation ongoing and I don't want to make any comment until such time as that has been completed," he said.

"Certainly the Police Federation would be concerned at any breach of security at any establishment within the police service's stations."

The small office, where the incident happened, is staffed around the clock and is a contact point for anyone wishing to get in touch with special branch.

According to sources, the office wouldn't easily be found, suggesting those involved had knowledge of its location.

One senior source said the possibility of an internal or inside link to the incident is under investigation.

Informers

A number of documents were taken, including a note pad.

A special police team, headed by a senior detective, is investigating the incident.

Special branch deals with intelligence work, some relating to informers, and has an anti-terrorism role in Northern Ireland.

One of the main police centres for the interrogation of terrorist suspects was located at Castlereagh. It closed at the end of 1999.

Belfast Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers said he was deeply concerned at what had happened and called for a full scale investigation.

"There's something rather strange about this break-in and I do not believe for one moment that either republican or loyalist paramilitaries were involved," he said.

"It seems strange that this has happened when the Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan has less than two weeks left before he retires after giving long and distinguished service."

The office of the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland said it was "watching the situation" but could not comment at the present time.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Brian Rowan:
"This is an embarrassing breach of security"
See also:

10 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
Interrogation centre to close
08 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Sustained crime crackdown promised
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