The BBC Northern Ireland website last night had a headline that read: 'PSNI data breach: Independent review to be launched'. That is not quite the full story. The first line of the BBC story gave more detail: it said that it will be an “independent-led” review, which is true. But the PSNI has helped commission it.
In a major investigation the organisation that is being investigated should have no role in choosing who investigates it. The choice of Peter O’Doherty to carry out the review might be a good one but observers could doubt that when they reflect on the role of the PSNI in choosing its own reviewer.
The day after the breach emerged, this column noted with concern the limp response of local politicians: their criticisms, we pointed out, had "an almost repetitious quality ... lessons must be learnt, we were told, and officers need to be assured of their safety ..."
But in the days after that the gravity of the blunder became clearer: the list of all police officers including those who worked with the intelligence agencies had not only been divulged but was in the hands of dissident republican terrorists. Yet much of the political response continues to focus on the need to restore confidence in policing and reassure officers. What about major sanction for the people responsible, with a focus on the more senior officers who allowed such a slack system to develop? What about calling for the UK government to conduct its own review, as this newspaper did? What about encouraging that review to look carefully at whether any security powers need to be pulled back to London given that it can't be trusted here?
The safety of a generation of police officers has been treated with grievous carelessness. But not only is the competence of the PSNI in question, so is the competence of those who should be overseeing them.