Page last updated at 20:25 GMT, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 21:25 UK

Ex-priest sues over PSNI security vetting

Vincent Kearney
By Vincent Kearney
BBC Northern Ireland home affairs correspondent

Kevin Kennedy
Kevin Kennedy said he was stunned by his suspension

A former Catholic priest is suing the PSNI because he was forced to resign from a job with the Policing Board after failing a security check.

Kevin Kennedy has worked as a civil servant for more than 25 years and has no criminal record.

He was told he could not work for the Board because of information the police said they had about his brother.

Mr Kennedy was appointed as a policy and research officer in 2004, subject to security clearance.

As a former Catholic priest, who's now a father of four and has been a civil servant for more than 25 years, he didn't expect any problems.

But just two weeks after taking up the job he was suspended on full pay and told the board had received a letter from the PSNI stating that he had failed the security vetting process - not because of anything he had done, but because of information the police said they had about a member of his family.

National security

Last month, Mr Kennedy failed in a legal attempt to gain access to the intelligence information on which the police based their assessment.

During a hearing at the High Court in Belfast, it was revealed that the Board was told during the summer of 2004 that Mr Kennedy failed security vetting because of historical and recent intelligence regarding his brother, Dermot Kennedy, which had been assessed as reliable and accurate information.

It said the intelligence was very sensitive and a matter of national security.

Dermot Kennedy is a former Sinn Fein Westminster and Assembly election candidate and has never been convicted of a criminal offence.

It's a question of justice, it's a question of honour, it's a question of reputation and I need to have all these things restored
Kevin Kennedy

Six weeks after that, in July 2004, Kevin Kennedy was told he could no longer be employed by the board.

In a letter, he was told he had the option of resigning as an alternative to being dismissed on the basis of his non-security clearance.

Kevin Kennedy was stunned.

"Being asked to leave your place of employment is a very shocking, demeaning and frightening experience. It was something that cut very deeply into my feelings and I felt very badly hurt by what happened," he says.

Six years on, he now works for the Department of Social Development, and is suing the chief constable for damages.

In a court action expected to be heard in the autumn, he alleges malicious falsehood, negligent misstatement and misfeasance in public office.

"It has damaged my career prospects and my self-confidence, and it has put a dark cloud over myself and my family," he says.

High Court in Belfast
The case is being heard at the High Court in Belfast

"It has left me wondering if this kind of activity will affect my four sons, whether this kind of thing will happen to them when they seek jobs.

"It's a question of justice, it's a question of honour, it's a question of reputation and I need to have all these things restored."

The SDLP's Alex Attwood, who was a member of the Policing Board at the time Mr Kennedy was forced to resign, says he supports his legal challenge, and urged the police to review a policy which he said was a "hangover from the past".

"Kevin Kennedy is a good and decent person. There are no allegations of any nature against Kevin Kennedy," he says.

"Whatever the police may think about other people, it should not result in a good person becoming the victim of a policy that is wrong in this case."

Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey said he would be pursuing the matter with the Policing Board.

Mr Maskey, who is a member of the Policing Board, said it "obviously predates our membership of the Board, but this does not make the decision anymore palatable".

In statements, the Policing Board and the PSNI said they could not comment on the issue as it was the subject of legal action.

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