Blair calls for urgent investigation into police handling of journalists’ arrests

Alliance Policing Board member John Blair MLA has said there needs to be an urgent investigation into police handling of the arrests of two journalists over the suspected theft of confidential files.

Mr Blair, who was speaking after attending a meeting of the Policing Board in which outgoing Chief Constable George Hamilton was questioned on the arrests of Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, said concerns also remained over the ability to scrutinise the actions of the Durham Constabulary, who were the lead investigating force.

“Alliance fully supports the police. However, openness and accountability is needed around policing to retain the confidence of everyone in the community,” said the South Antrim MLA.

“There remains deep concern about the actions of the PSNI and Durham Constabulary in this investigation – why it was started in the first instance and why it subsequently took so long to drop. There are undoubtedly wider implications from the arrests of Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, both in terms of freedom of the press and how the media act as scrutinisers.

“The PSNI needs to urgently start working with the Policing Board to establish frameworks so accountability can be secured and any similar incidents can be prevented in future. In addition, there needs to be an investigation established into this entire matter, as it is unclear how a police force from England can be held accountable for actions carried out in Northern Ireland, in addition to the unacceptable extra stress this has caused the families of the victims of Loughinisland.”

Blair: Attack on church cannot be tolerated

South Antrim Alliance MLA John Blair has condemned an attack on a Catholic Church in Ballyclare, which police are treating as a hate crime.

He said: “Discovered on Easter Sunday, this was a despicable attack set to cause pain and distress.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe in their place of worship. The community will rally, sending a signal to those responsible that they are not supported in their actions.

“I’d urge anyone with information to contact the PSNI as soon as possible.”

Blair says there is onus on all of us to tackle intolerance

Alliance Policing Board member John Blair MLA has said there remains an onus on all of us to help tackle intolerance, after questioning the PSNI on hate crimes against Muslims.

Mr Blair’s question at today’s meeting of the Policing Board comes after recent figures showed there have been at least 320 hate crimes against people from a Muslim background in Belfast over the past five years. However, the Institute for Conflict Research, which carried out the study, believes most incidents against Muslims are not reported to police, which PSNI representatives confirmed at today’s meeting was also their belief.

“Muslims play a full and integral role in our society. It is maddening to think there are people who will go to various lengths to whip up tensions in our community, particularly when the vast majority here welcome the growing multicultural nature of Northern Ireland, and wish groups behind such incidents would vanish,” said South Antrim MLA Mr Blair.

“I was pleased Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton agreed to engage further on this matter through the Policing Board. The Places of Worship Security Funding scheme in England and Wales gives money to places of worship which have been subjected to or could be vulnerable to hate crime attacks for protective security. We need to see a similar scheme here, together with a Racial Equality Strategy monitored by a functioning Executive.

“The Policing Board also has a role to play on this matter and I want to help ensure progress is seen in and delivered through every Policing and Community Safety Partnership in Northern Ireland.

“Attacks on the Muslim community are not just attacks on them, they are attacks on all of us. There remains a challenge to all of us in our society to understand we are all equal citizens regardless of religious or other background, and to tackle inequality and intolerance wherever we see it.”