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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 11:05 GMT
Security breach inquiries 'damaging'
Castlereagh is the PSNI's Belfast headquarters
Castlereagh is the PSNI's Belfast headquarters
Too many inquiries are going on into the security breach at Belfast's main police headquarters, according to the Conservative Party.

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.

Quentin Davies:
Quentin Davies: "Chaos and confusion"

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

The Conservative Party spokesman on Northern Ireland, Quentin Davies, said three separate investigations may lead to confusion.

He said there was a suggestion one inquiry would be conducted by the Police Ombudsman and a second by an independent chairman.

"There's a suggestion that the police themselves would be conducting a third inquiry into the criminal act of burglary," he said.

He said there was "considerable chaos and confusion" which he believed could be damaging.

The Policing Board is meeting for the first time since the incident, and will be attended by outgoing Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

The board's vice-chairman, Denis Bradley, said there was "understandable public disquiet" at the nature of the security break.

He said he would be urging Sir Ronnie to make a public statement on the issue.

Meanwhile, a former security force agent has said he believed the documents had been stolen to be made public, not destroyed.

Willie Carlin said some former agents were "horrified" at the theft.

He added: "I have never known an (intelligence) investigation in the north of Ireland to produce the full truth, and nothing but the truth."

Criminal investigation

On Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid ordered an independent review of what he called a "breach of national security" at the complex.

Dr Reid is to appoint a "distinguished independent figure" to investigate the incident.

He said the review would go hand-in-hand with the criminal investigation, which will be led by Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, the most senior detective in Belfast.

Dr Reid 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

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."

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.

Security cameras

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

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.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Quentin Davies:
"Having several inquiries may be damaging"
See also:

19 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Review into 'national security breach'
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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