You may remember the post from a few weeks ago revealing that the PSNI had spent over £2 million on firearms in the last five years (read it here).  In the interest of fairness, and to put the cost of the PSNI’s firearms bill in context, I decided it would be pertinent to compare them with a force of a similar size – in this case, Greater Manchester Police.  The comparison is not favourable to our local force.

A comparison of the two police services in the context of firearms spend and that of the other two items reported on previously, i.e. tasers and irritant sprays, is interesting.

The Greater Manchester Police is responsible for an area with a population of roughly 2.8 million people, dwarfing that of the PSNI with 1.8 million.

In terms of workforce, there are 6,872 police officers in Northern Ireland, compared with that of Manchester, at 6,303.

However, the spending by the two respective forces on firearms couldn’t be more different.  In the years 2011-16, the PSNI spent £2.672 million on guns, whilst the GMP spent a fraction of that, spending £926,000.

When we look at tasers, the PSNI spent £90,000 in the period, whilst the GMP spent £860,000.  The PSNI spent £235,000 on irritant sprays such as mace, whilst GMP spent only £100,000 in the period.

The total spend across all three of these categories shows the PSNI spent £2.997m from 2011-16 whilst the Greater Manchester force spent £1.886m

Given the obvious difference in lethal versus non-lethal resources (i.e. guns vs tasers/irritant sprays), the question must be asked, why is there such as propensity for the PSNI to focus on firearms?

It could reasonably be argued that this is due to the threat from paramilitary organisations locally, however it is also conceivable that those in Manchester could point out the threat to large population centres from Islamic extremism akin to attacks in Paris and Brussels.



Following the widely publicised collapse of the case against John Downey in relation to the Hyde Park bombing and the issue of On the Run comfort letters, Lady Justice Hallett was asked to undertake a review of the legality of the scheme given it had been identified that some people had mistakenly been given letters of comfort telling them they were not wanted by police for troubles-related offences.

As a result of the Downey judgment the PSNI is now reviewing all of the OTR cases to ensure that no further mistakes have been made, this is known as Operation Redfield.
BtP put a number of questions to the PSNI on the ongoing work.  Primarily, we asked for the current status of the operation, its resourcing and internal structure.

We had also asked for documents and correspondence from the Assistant Chief Constable responsible for Crime Operations including written orders to the team but these were not in a position to be released.

Operation Redfield was responsible for reviewing the wanted status of 228 individuals.

It has been identified that 432 incidents are linked to just 24 of those 228 individuals and the PSNI have prioritised the review of the status of 36 individuals referred to in the Hallett Report.

The review of 75 incidents have so far been completed, less than 20% of the total.
In terms of resourcing, at Feb/March 2014, the operations team included 1 Detective Chief Inspector, 2 Detective Inspectors, 3 Detective Sergeants, 7 Detective Constables and 1 part-time Adminstration officer.

However, information released to BtP shows that this has been reduced by a Detective Inspector, 1 Detective Sergeant and the Administration officer.  It is now supported by the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch, which begs the question, is the review being given the attention it requires?

The Legacy Investigations Branch is a revamp of the HET, which came in for harsh criticism about consistency in investigating cases involves the police or security forces.

(picture credit: BBC)


Police forces around the UK do not have routinely armed officers, except the PSNI, Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary.  All other forces have armed response units specifically equipped to deal with specific incidents.  Due to this, firearms are not a major spending priority for the ‘bobby on the beat’.

However, The Police Service of Northern Ireland has spent over £2 million on acquiring firearms in the last six years, BtP can reveal.

We asked the PSNI to outline spending on firearms and their spare parts, tasers and irritant sprays such as mace, since 2011.

In total, the police spent £2,671,631.28 on firearms during that period.

£90,355 was spent on tasers and accessories, with £235,223 spent on irritant sprays.
From 2015 until the present day, nothing has been spent on tasers or sprays, but there has been significant spending on firearms each year since 2011/12 as the data below outlines;

2011/12   £1,840,838
2012/13    £27,122
2013/14   £429,348.10
2014/15   £150,982.65
2015/16   £193,737.75
2016/17   £29,602.78

These costs do not include ammunition, but do include ‘associated spare parts’.

According to a statement to the House of Commons by the then Secretary of State in January 2014, the highest year of spending on firearms, 2013/14 saw 30 national security attacks in NI, over half of which, according to her statement, took place between October and December 2013.  Could this massive hike in firearms expenditure be a response to the upsurge in security-related incidents?

As of January 2016, the PSNI has a full time office complement of 6,872.  The total cost of firearms constitutes almost £400 per officer, though it is unlikely each officer is issued with a new firearm each financial year.



After our summer break, we wanted to do a piece about an issue that is causing growing concern across the region – that of legal highs, also known as psychoactive substances.
These can come in the form of synthetic cannabis, powders or other substances of unknown ingredients and strength.
We asked the PSNI a range of questions about their efforts to address the sale and use of legal highs – and we also asked Royal Mail about their detention processes for legal highs at distribution centres where packets have been bought online.
We asked the police what work with external bodies they have undertaken to stop the sale of legal highs here, or being delivered to addresses here.
The PSNI told us that the are engaged with the NCA, DOJ, DHSSPS, PPS, Forensic Science Agency NI, Councils and the Attorney General.
As part of that engagement, the PSNI alongside local councils used the General Product Safety Regulations to seize items and effectively ban the sale of legal highs which resulted in the closure of all so called head shops which sell legal highs over the counter.
There are seven teams of 15 officers within the police which tackle Organised Crime, including those deemed to be involved in the production and sale of these substances.
Crucially, we also asked the police if they utilised human intelligence sources – informants – and if any of these were under the age of 18. The PSNI issued us with a Neither Confirm or Deny response – for a number of reasons such as national security and the integrity of ongoing investigations.
Royal Mail were asked to outline their detection processes for legal highs and how many items they have detected and seized in a certain timeframe.
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Royal Mail does not knowingly carry any illegal items in its network. Where Royal Mail has any suspicion that illegal items are being sent through our system, we always work closely with the police and other authorities to assist their investigations and to prevent such activities from happening. For obvious reasons, we are not able to give any further details about our security measures as this would compromise our operations.”


In light of a number of investigations by the BBC and other organisations into care homes for the elderly, and those with disabilities, BtP has undertaken an investigation of complaints made to the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) responsible for regulating the health and social care sector which includes children’s homes, nursing homes and residential care homes.
We asked the RQIA, since 2011, how many complaints have been made on the basis of the following:
  • Theft
  • Abuse (physical or mental)
  • Assault (physical or sexual)

RQIA told us they would respond on the basis of how they record incidents, under the banners;

  •  A1: Theft or burglary
  •  G6.1: Allegation of Misconduct (Physical)
  •  G6.3: Allegation of Misconduct (Psychological/Emotional)
  •  G6.4: Allegation of Misconduct (Financial/Material)
  •  G6.2: Allegation of Misconduct (Sexual)

Since 2011, almost 4,000 complaints in total have been made by users of those services.  RQIA provided us with the complaints made broken down by Health Trust area, and it must be said that these are allegations – we have no way of knowing if these have been substantiated given the PSNI role and the confidentiality around such investigations.


Belfast has seen 898 complaints made to RQIA since 2011, the majority of these, 412, are for physical misconduct which could involve physical abuse. 153 instances of psychological abuse and the same number of allegations of theft or fraud were made within the trust area.


The Northern Trust is the largest Trust geographically in NI, covering four council areas.  691 complaints have been made to RQIA from this area since 2011.  The trend of allegations of physical misconduct being the highest recorded complaint continues here, with 339 complaints made on this basis.  125 complaints of allegations of psychological misconduct were made over that period also.


The South Eastern Trust has the highest overall number of complaints at 1,015, and bar far the highest number of allegations of physical misconduct at 511.  In fact, apart from allegations of theft or burglary, this Trust has the highest number of complaints across all categories.  107 of financial/material misconduct, 183 on psychological misconduct and 88 of sexual misconduct.  It is also worth nothing, that although not broken down by where complaints came from, the South Eastern Trust also provides healthcare services to all NI Prison Service institutions.


552 complaints in total were made in the Southern Trust area, again the majority of these allegations of physical misconduct – 227.  108 complaints alleging psychological misconduct were also made in the period.


200 allegations of physical misconduct were made in the Western Trust, and 91 of allegations of psychological misconduct making up more than half of the 450 total complaints made in the period.


Concerning, no?




The use of stop and search powers under terrorism legislation has been a serious bone of contention not just here but across the water and in other western nations given the infringement on human rights.

Here, individuals who may be involved in republican groupings but who have not been convicted of any crime have been pointing the finger at the PSNI alleging ‘political policing’ and ‘harassment’.

So, BtP went about looking into this – albeit with limited information.  We now have obtained a restricted PSNI briefing to the NI Policing Board on stop and searches, despite the PSNI seeking to ensure we didn’t use some of the information contained therein because ‘terrorists could identify where powers are being used most, and evade police’.  We believe its our duty to expose information in the public interest, and for the police and justice system to prove someone is guilty of a crime, so alas.


The information is a snapshot, ranging from the quarter April-June 2015, however, it is the last report on stop and searches given to the Policing Board.

During that period, under the range of legislative powers the police can use, 6,964 were stopped and searched – 40% of these were aged between 18-25.

The police have a range of powers they can use to stop and search an individual, though our report focusses on just two – the Terrorism Act and the Justice and Security Act.  Here’s what those laws give the police the power to do;


As you can see, there are an extensive number of powers available to the police.

Of the 6,964 stopped and searched by police officers, only 584, or 8.4% were arrested.  40.8% of these were in the South Policing District.  This is under all available powers.

37 people were stopped and searched under section 43 of the Terrorism Act.  Only 2 were subsequently arrested.

18 people were stopped and searched under section 43A of the same legislation, no arrests were made.

481 people were stopped under section 21 of the Justice and Security Act.  Just 2, or 0.4% of those stopped, were subsequently arrested.

1,087 were stopped under section 24 and section 22 of the Justice and Security Act – by far the widest used legislation.  2% of these were arrested.

As part of the powers as outlined above, vehicles and houses can be searched by police.  Here are the figures for that timeframe.



The information the PSNI didn’t want us to release was where the powers were used most, and the profile of those most likely to be stopped and searched.


The PSNI have broken the information in their report down by local government district, so here is a map of the current local government boundaries for information


From the information in the restricted document, we have been able to pinpoint where stop and searches are more prevalent, and event where you are more likely as a man and a woman, to be subject to stop and searches.


Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council area

You are more likely to be stopped and searched in this Council area than in any others – and it boasts the highest stop and searches for both males and females in the period.  It is also the number one area for subsequent arrests.


Derry City and Strabane District Council

This Council area comes second, and it is also second most likely to stop all males and females throughout the region.  This is also the second most prevalent area for subsequent arrests.

The other three of the top five council areas where stop and search powers are used are as follows;


We will leave our readers to decipher the relevance of these council areas, and the specific areas of what is deemed to be dissident activity in each of these areas.


A major factor in delivering the Good Friday Agreement was the establishment of the Patten Commission on Policing, which subsequently instigated a 50:50 recruitment policy in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland for Catholics and Protestants.

However, in March 2011, the then-Secretary of State Owen Paterson ended the practice, which lead to widespread anger, given just below 30% of the officers were from a Catholic background at that time.

Given it is now five years from that decision, BtP decided to investigate the current state of the PSNI in relation to community makeup.

Current staff composition

At the time of writing, 67.32% of Police Officers were from the Protestant community, whilst 31.13% were from the Catholic community.  In terms of support staff for the PSNI, 78.31% of these staff are from the Protestant community, whilst 19.61% are from the Catholic community, the rest in both categories are marked ‘Undetermined’.


Prospective Police Constables are required to apply, be granted a place at the Police Training College, and pass their course there.

BtP sought the community breakdown of all applicants, successful and unsuccessful, in the last three years.  It should be noted that the 2014 intake have not yet completed training, and the 2015 tranche have not yet been appointed to the College stage of the process.


In all of the years, the percentage applicants from the Protestant community have reached a high of 67.51% in 2014 and their lowest, 65.30% in 2015.

The number of applicants from the Catholic community have hovered around the 30% mark, 31.81% in 2015 being the highest, and the lowest in 2013 at 30.62%.


Of those applicants who were successful in being allowed to progress to the PSNI Training College, the percentages seem fairly static in 2013 and 2014, however the figures underlying these are surprising.

In 2013, 319 members of the Protestant community progressed, compared to only 77 members of the Catholic community.  This works out as 79.5% Protestant, 19.2% Catholic.

These figures mean that for 2013, just over 6% of applicants from the Protestant community progressed to the College stage, whilst just over 3% of applicants from the Catholic community progressed.

In 2014, the figures are more stark.  215 Protestants progressed to the College compared to only 46 from the Catholic community.


Of the 2013 intake, the graduation percentage for each community match that of the applicant breakdown, however the figures tell a different story.

Of all of the applicants in total from the beginning of the process, those to graduate from PSNI Training College from the Catholic community add to a mere 0.94%, whilst those from 5% of those from a Protestant background graduated.

Given those who entered the College in 2014 are still in training, the figures of those still in training and those who have graduated are;


145 Protestants remain in training at the College, compared to 31 members of the Catholic community.  63 Protestants from that cohort have so far graduated, compared to 14 Catholic graduates.

The figures for 2015 show only those who have applied and no sifting has been completed to progress to the College stage.


3,590 members of the Protestant community applied to the PSNI, with 1749 Catholics applying.


We asked the PSNI to outline how many officers were promoted in the last three years, broken down by community makeup.

Since 1st Jan 2013, 321 officers were granted a promotion in the PSNI.

The breakdown is as follows:


226 or 70.04% were Protestant, 90 or 28.04% were Catholic and 5 or 1.86% were ‘undetermined’

In terms of numbers by rank, these break down as follows:


The vast majority of promotions were granted to constables elevated to Sergeant, 172, with of course one new Chief Constable being appointed.  The figures, just for information, are as follows (these are all promotions, not broken down by community designation):

Chief Constable  1

Deputy Chief Constable  1

Asst Chief Constable  2

Chief Superintendent  6

Superintendent  15

Chief Inspector  39

Inspector  84

Sergeant  172




Communities the length and breadth of NI will have encountered the helicopters of the PSNI Air Support Unit at some point in the last three years, and facebook in particular floods with complaints about hovering noise during deployments, but how much is all this costing?

BtP has been pestering the FOI team at PSNI Headquarters in recent weeks about their awful recording of Air Support unit data, and we can now reveal the final responses we have received, with some other questions still ‘up in the air’.

The Air Support Unit current has three aircraft, with the third purchased and operational since July 2013.  We asked three fairly simple questions on your behalf:

  1. How many times each aircraft was deployed in each policing district in the last three years
  2. Average cost of each deployment, and the cost of fuel used in each year by each aircraft
  3. Maintenance costs for each aircraft including repairs in the last three years

Before we delve into the figures, a reminder of the PSNI policing districts (before they were changed recently) and a subsequent reminder that in 2015-16, the PSNI will have £40.4m less in their budget due to cuts.


You might think, given the issues of traffic and the size of the city, that Belfast (Districts A and B) would have used the aircraft more than any other area, but you’d be wrong.


Remember this?

The Army had to rely on helicopters to patrol South Armagh for fear of attacks on vehicles

In a very interesting development, we see that District E, which covers the vast majority of County Armagh, actually has by far the highest number of deployments – 2,120 between 2013-2015.  This begs the question, given the significant number of operations against dissident republican groups, and the reputation of the border county, particularly around South Armagh as ‘Bandit Country’ – are the PSNI following in the footsteps of the British Army and using aircraft as a substitute for road transport in the area for fear of attacks?

In terms of the cost of fuel (our second question), in a rather convoluted way the PSNI told us that for 2012-13 and 2013-14 the fuel costs also included items like landing fees, insurance and sundries.  Regardless, the costs are astronomical.


The PSNI tell us they do not keep the records of the average cost of each deployment.  All of this fuel (and some other costs where applicable) over the last three years, has cost you the taxpayer a total of £2,384,392.31 

Answering our third question (in a round about way), the PSNI could only give us the total cost for maintenance for the two aircraft it had in 2012-13 – it was £442,815.82.

For the other two years, the data is as follows:


In the three years that we asked for, the total maintenance costs for the Air Support unit aircraft is £3,347,534.12.

In total, fuel and maintenance, over the last three years the PSNI has spent a whopping £5.73 MILLION pounds on deploying and keeping their aircraft fleet maintained – all of this at a time front line policing is facing cuts.

One final point is to be made from our information – we asked a final question – ‘The date and purpose of any incursion into non-UK airspace (of PSNI aircraft) in the last three years’.

The PSNI refused to answer under grounds of ‘national security‘ – but did admit that yes, “on occasion PSNI do cross into Irish airspace but do not leave UK territory”.  We’ll leave that one with you.

Another BtP exclusive.


From the most recent statistics released by the PSNI, from December 2013, rates of incidents of domestic violence have increased year on year.  Almost 1,100 further incidents took place in 2014-15 than in 2012-13, and in terms of recorded crime, there has been an increase by almost 2,300 in the same time period.

342 new cases of domestic violence or related crime have occurred in the period where the victim has been under the age of 18.  This is an increased of almost 1,000 since 2004.

Shockingly, where the victim of the domestic violence or related crime is a male over the age of 18, incidents since 2004 have almost doubled.

In terms of offenders, whilst men are still overwhelmingly behind domestic violence and related offences, the number of women who are perpetrators is steadily rising, from 416 in 2010-11 to 558 in 2014-15.

Craigavon and Foyle have the highest prevalence of domestic violence or related crime where the victim is under 18 years of age according to PSNI statistics for 2014-15, with the same two areas top of the table for domestic violence directed at male victims.

A scheme run by the Housing Executive in conjunction with the PSNI has been put in place in recent times to assist domestic violence victims stay in their homes.

According to the Housing Executive: “The Sanctuary Scheme is a victim–centred Housing Executive led initiative, designed to assist victims of domestic violence and prevent homelessness. It involves the creation of a sanctuary room – a safe room within the home where the victim can call and wait for the arrival of the police. Additional work can include increased door and window security and where necessary, the provision of fire safety equipment.”

However, despite the figures above, it would seem that this scheme is being substantially underused.

Figures obtained by BtP via the Freedom of Information Act show that from when the schemes was introduced in May 2011, only 35 properties throughout the entire province have been adapted for domestic violence victims.

One property in the entire Belfast NIHE area has been adapted, with a cost of £123.42.  In the North Region, which covers the North, Eastern and West areas of NI for the Housing Executive, only 16 properties have been adopted, at a cost of £12,663.06, and in the South region, which covers Craigavon, Armagh/Banbridge, Lurgan and Portadown areas, 18 properties have been adapted at a cost of £27,074.21.

These figures are surprising given the prevalence in Foyle and Craigavon of domestic violence, and given the Housing Executive admitted to us in their response that ‘we do not have a budget as work is carried out on request from the PSNI in agreement with the tenant’ – the question is, is enough being done to address domestic violence, especially for those victims who feel unsafe in their homes?

Prison Scanners fiasco continues

Readers may remember the publication of the Dame Anne Owers report entitled ‘Review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Conditions, management and oversight of all prisons’ in October 2011.  Keep that date in mind.

Recommendation 8 of the report states: ‘Efforts should be continued to see whether there is an effective and less intrusive method than full body-searching of ensuring that prisoners leaving and entering prison are not bringing in contraband.’

Following the publication of the report, the NI Prison Service announced that two trials involving electronic scanners to replace full body searches would take place.  The first, which began in September 2012, utilised a millimetre wave scanner, much the same as those used in airports such as Belfast International.

In February 2013, however, the Prison Service ruled out the use of this technology in prisons as it failed to detect contraband such as knives and scissors in an internal trial – the results of which were not independently verified.

The second, more complex trial is set to use a backscatter x-ray scanner and due to the range of radiation this involves, is subject to European legislation, namely the Justification of Practices Involving the Use of Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004.

In a nutshell, the Prison Service has to submit a detailed technical application to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change who will decide whether the scanner can be used in this manner.

Here’s the kicker.  The application was received from NIPS on 2nd May 2013, and a determination was made on 9th December 2014.  It was determined that this was a new way of using the technology, and as such needs further examination.

Sounds fair enough? Well.  BtP can reveal today that the Prison Service is now waiting for a NEW application from the National Offender Management Service to use the technology across the UK to be assessed.  Let’s be clear, an NI specific report leads to an NI specific application, all in all taking nearly three years, now NIPS have decided to wait for another application that is similar to theirs before they go ahead with the second scanner trial promised in October 2011.

In a FOI response to BtP, NIPS have said:

NOMS (National Offender Management Service) are currently going through the justification process in regards to the use of ionising radiation. They are submitting a report to the Department of energy and climate change to ask for permission to use transmission x-ray scanners. There will be no further progress until this process is completed.

As NOMS application is for a similar purpose, it is sensible that both should be considered together.

Until this prolonged process is completed, prisoners, particularly in Maghaberry who had engaged in protests about full body searching, are sure to be somewhat angry at this latest debacle.