Northern Ireland’s police chief has insisted he will not resign before a meeting critical of the force’s “monumental” data leak.
Some 10,000 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers and staff have been affected by the breach, which emerged on Tuesday and came in response to a freedom of information request.
In its response to the request, PSNI published a table containing rank and grade data for officers and staff, but also included detailed information enclosing the last name, initial, location, and departments of all employees.
The data was potentially visible to the public for between two and a half to three hours.
Senior officers will face an interrogation about the rape and its fallout for officers working in intelligence, undercover, and counterterrorism.
The police chief stands still
But Simon Byrne, PSNI’s police chief, told the Financial Times when asked if he intended to resign over the leak: “No, I won’t.”
He has interrupted a family holiday to return to Belfast for questioning by politicians at an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Police Board on Thursday.
It emerged on Wednesday that the theft of documents, including a spreadsheet containing the names of more than 200 officers and personnel on duty, and a police-issued laptop computer and radio, from a car in Newtown Abbey in July.
PSNI Assistant Police Chief Chris Todd apologized to officers and staff for that day’s data breach, which he said was being treated as a “critical incident.”
Todd said all affected officers and staff have been contacted to inform them and an initial notification has been sent to the Information Commissioner about the breach.
“Urgent responses are required”
Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary of state, spoke to Byrne on Wednesday about the rape, which he described as a “very serious matter”.
The Police Federation of Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, said they have been inundated with calls from concerned officers.
The body’s Liam Kelly said the rape was “monumental”, particularly as the unique threats to police officers in Northern Ireland, steeped in a history of tension between loyalists and unionists, meant that many “go out of their way to protect their identities. .
He said: “Urgent responses are required.
How did this happen? What measures were put in place to advise and safeguard so many colleagues?
“The large security breach was bad enough, but this puts additional pressure on the PSNI to produce credible explanations of data security protocols and the impact on officer safety. Speed is essential.”
Meanwhile, Ryan Elliott of Cleaver Fulton Rankin Solicitors predicted a flurry of legal cases as he was instructed by two senior officers to send pre-prosecution letters to police chiefs and “the emails just keep coming.”
He told the Belfast Telegraph that compensation payments were difficult to predict, but each individual could be entitled to a minimum of £10,000 each, which equates to £100 million between all those affected.
“Then there’s the cost of having to potentially relocate some officers, a massive fine from the Information Commissioner, the cost of upgrading IT systems and legal fees – it’s incredible,” he said.
Police in the region are under threat from terrorists, with the threat level currently assessed at severe, meaning an attack is very likely. More than 300 police officers were killed during the riots.
In February, Senior Detective John Caldwell was seriously injured when gunmen shot at him at a sports complex in Co Tyrone.
Earlier this year, Byrne said he received reports almost every day of plots to attack and kill his officers, adding that the constant threat from dissident Republicans remains a “real concern.