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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Police probe after contract court
Armoured police Land Rover
Armoured police vehicles are used in troubled areas
The police are to begin an inquiry following legal action over a cancelled contract for vehicle armour-plating.

A High Court judge in Belfast had called for a criminal investigation into alleged corruption.

He said there was evidence someone in the PSNI deliberately undermined a firm which lost the contract to a rival.

NI Sheet Metal Works Ltd was awarded 400,000 in damages. A police spokesman said an independent expert would review issues raised in the court case.

The Belfast-based company took an action for breach of contract after Firth Rixson Castings Ltd was awarded the contract, at an extra cost of 350,000.

High Court judge Sir Liam McCollum said once legal costs had been taken into account, the wasteful loss of public funds was in the region of 1m.

Sir Liam said: "It is difficult to attribute an innocent motive or to absolve any person involved in the decision-making process."

Three-year contract

The judge said NI Sheet Metal Works was awarded the three-year contract in June 2001.

He said doubts and reservations were later expressed about the company's ability to carry out the contract for no apparent reason.

The firm was asked to supply further steel samples for testing, which led to an allegation that the second set was not of the same quality as the first, meaning it did not comply with the contract.

Sir Liam said First Rixson Castings was employed instead, "at a greatly increased price".

However, a later test proved that both samples were for all practical purposes the same steel, the judge said.

"There is evidence that the report of this test, which might have saved the contract, may have been suppressed within the PSNI team responsible for the contract," added the judge.

"In addition, it may have been deliberately removed from the list of documents made available for discovery in the action."

'Independent expert'

In a statement, the PSNI said it was "apparent that there are issues to be addressed arising from this case".

"We are therefore arranging for the appointment of an independent expert to review and report on all the elements of this process."

NI Sheet Metal Works managing director Jim Kirkpatrick said he was "sorry to see the PSNI the subject of any criminal investigation".

Mr Kirkpatrick, who is also a DUP councillor, said his firm had been supplying armoured protection to the police since 1988.

"At a time when people were being murdered for selling the police vegetables, we were working to protect the lives of police officers and various VIPs," he said.

He said his firm would soon be tendering for a new contract but they would first need convincing that the PSNI would employ a credible criteria.



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