Policing Board approves selection of Northern Ireland’s next chief constable

The police oversight body in Northern Ireland has approved the selection of the region’s next chief constable, with the decision now passed to the Government for sign-off.

Interim Chief Constable Jon Boutcher and current Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton are vying for the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s top job.

They will not be officially informed of the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s decision until it is given the green light by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

The two candidates are bidding to replace former PSNI chief Simon Byrne, who resigned in September after a string of controversies.

Simon Byrne
Simon Byrne (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Boutcher, the former police chief of Bedfordshire, was appointed as the interim head of the service pending the outcome of the interviews for the permanent £220,000-a-year post.

The Policing Board interviewed the two shortlisted candidates at the board’s headquarters in Belfast on Monday, before a multi-stage deliberation and selection process.

In normal circumstances, when a devolved government is in place in Northern Ireland, the board’s selection would be sent to Stormont’s justice minister for final approval.

With no justice minister in place due to the ongoing powersharing impasse, Mr Heaton-Harris has responsibility for signing off on the appointment. He has no influence on the choice but must be satisfied that the process was fair and done in accordance with rules and guidelines.

The interview panel was made up of Policing Board chairwoman Deirdre Toner, independent board member Mukesh Sharma and three political members of the oversight body: Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly, the DUP’s Joanne Bunting and Nuala McAllister from the Alliance Party.

An external adviser from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) was on hand during the interviews to provide advice.

Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris (Liam McBurney/PA)

After the interviews, the panel convened to make a selection.

An online meeting of the full board was then convened for the appointment to be ratified.

A full report outlining the selection and the rationale behind the choice was then prepared for Mr Heaton-Harris.

The Secretary of State is obliged to consult officials at Stormont’s Department of Justice before formally approving the board’s selection.

It could be Tuesday before the identity of the new chief constable is officially confirmed.

Mr Boutcher previously applied to become PSNI chief constable in 2019, but lost out to Mr Byrne.

He was until recently leading Operation Kenova, which has been investigating the activities of “Stakeknife”, the Army’s top agent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Mr Singleton has previously held high-profile roles within the PSNI, including leading the Paramilitary Crime Task Force before heading the Legacy Investigation Branch.