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Sunday, 7 April, 2002, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Security upgrade a 'smokescreen'
Castlereagh is the PSNI's Belfast headquarters
Castlereagh is the PSNI's Belfast headquarters
Sinn Fein has said a security warning to Special Branch officers following a breach at Belfast's police headquarters is an "expensive smokescreen".

Close to 200 Special Branch officers in Northern Ireland have been told they are at greater risk of terrorist attack following the theft of documents from the Castlereagh complex in the east of the city on 17 March.

The party's spokesman on policing, Gerry Kelly, said that the officers would already have high risk security status.

A Special Branch officer was assaulted and documents taken when three men entered an office inside the Castlereagh complex, in the east of the city, on St Patrick's Day.


If they are not bluffing and they are going to step up security then it is staggering

Gerry Kelly
Sinn Fein

"It is just an addition to the smokescreen, and a very, very expensive one," he said.

Despite denials by senior republicans, security sources are continuing to link the IRA to the break-in.

However, Mr Kelly was adamant that the security breach was an "inside job".

"If they are not bluffing and they are going to step up security then it's staggering," he said.

"We have already been told these Special Branch officers are high risk, so how high can this get?"

Meanwhile, former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan said the development was "not good news" but that there would be "no sense of panic".

Sir John Chilcot is to head review
Sir John Chilcot is heading an inquiry into the incident

Among the documents taken was an index book listing the ranks, names and telephone numbers of special branch officers.

However, the information taken did not include their addresses.

Details on other officers not attached to Special Branch were also listed in the book.

Security sources told the BBC on Saturday there was no other major line of inquiry than that linking the IRA to the break-in.

Special Branch officers have been briefed and told that the threat assessment following the break in was being upgraded.

American authorities

Sources say at this stage officers have not been advised to leave their homes.

Earlier last week, detectives investigating the security breach travelled to the United States to question a former employee at the station.

The man police want to question in the United States left his job in the kitchens at Castlereagh a number of weeks before the incident.

Security sources said detectives had been liaising with the American authorities.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid
John Reid: Established review

The theft occurred in an office which is used as a "link-point" for security force informers and their police handlers.

Days after the breach, it emerged that the office was only moved to that room from another part of the building a week previously because the complex was being refurbished.

Anti-terrorism

Two separate investigations into the incident are taking place - the police's own and an inquiry by former senior civil servant Sir John Chilcot who will report directly to Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid.

Sir John will be assisted by Colin Smith, a former Thames Valley chief constable and a former member of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The review will proceed in parallel with the criminal investigation which is being led by Detective Chief Superintendent Phil Wright, the most senior detective in Belfast.

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.

See also:

06 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
Officers warned of greater terror risk
03 Apr 02 | Northern Ireland
US move in security breach inquiry
20 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Police security breach review heads
20 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Security breach inquiries 'damaging'
20 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Informers: A dangerous assignment
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