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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 15:51 GMT
Review into 'national security breach'
Castlereagh is the PSNI's Belfast headquarters
Castlereagh is the PSNI's Belfast headquarters
An independent review of "a national security breach" at Belfast's main police headquarters has been announced by the Northern Ireland secretary.

A Special Branch officer was assaulted and documents taken when three men entered an office inside the base at Castlereagh, in east Belfast, on Sunday.

It is understood the documentation stolen may include details on intelligence sources - who provide special branch with information.

It is absolutely essential that we establish the facts surrounding this serious incident and do it as quickly as possible

John Reid
Secretary of State

One senior security source has told the BBC the possibility of an internal link will form a major part of the investigation.

Dr John Reid said he will appoint a "distinguished independent figure" to investigate the incident and was "absolutely determined" to find out the truth.

He said the review would go hand-in-hand with the criminal investigation, which will be led by one of Northern Ireland's most senior detectives.

"Any breach of national security is a matter of serious concern to me," he said.

"The Special Branch of the PSNI is responsible for matters which are crucial not only for the safety of people in Northern Ireland, but for national security more generally.

"It is absolutely essential, therefore, that we establish the facts surrounding this serious incident and do it as quickly as possible and in addition ensure in the national interest that all necessary remedial action has been taken."

Phil Wright: Senior detective
Phil Wright: Senior detective

Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan has announced that the criminal investigation will be led by Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, the most senior detective in Belfast.

In a statement on Tuesday, the police confirmed documentation was missing, but added: "It would be utterly wrong to comment on the detail of this documentation."

Security cameras

The chief constable has referred the matter to the Police Ombudsman.

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

The entire Castlereagh complex is being searched and footage from security cameras examined.

Denis Bradley, deputy chairman of the Policing Board, said: "In this new era of policing and accountability, it's very important that the public are assured that there will be accountability.

"It is very important that the general public are kept fully informed of what happened, what was taken and the implications of that."

Democratic Unionist Party Policing Board member Sammy Wilson described the situation as "very serious".

Inside link

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

According to sources, the office would not easily be found, suggesting those involved had knowledge of its location.

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.

The BBC's Denis Murray
"Castlereagh is the best known police station in Northern Ireland"
Secretary of State John Reid
"It is absolutely essential that we establish the facts"
Former member of the Police Authority Chris Ryder
"The implications of this cannot begin to be assessed yet"
See also:

18 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Police officer gagged in station attack
10 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
Interrogation centre to close
08 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
Sustained crime crackdown promised
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