Jon Boutcher, who replaces Simon Byrne as head of the PSNI, has been urged to sever the force’s ties to unionist paramilitaries and end the harassment of nationalists.
The former chief of Bedfordshire police in England was appointed last month as the interim head of the force pending the outcome of the interviews this week.
The confirmation this week that he is the new PSNI chief also means he has officially quit Operation Kenova, the seven-year investigation into collusion murders associated with the Crown Force project known as ‘Stakeknife’.
Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, said she wished Mr Boutcher well on his appointment. In a social media post, she wrote: “Huge job of work ahead to rebuild trust and confidence in the police with public, and PSNI officers. Focus must be on delivering an efficient and effective policing service that works and is representative of everyone in society.”
But the new PSNI chief is already being blamed for a scandal over the force’s decision to allow masked UVF loyalist paramilitaries to sit in court and intimidate a former member giving evidence in a high profile murder case.
The trial heard startling allegations about collusion between a UVF death squad and the PSNI (formerly RUC) in a series of murders of Catholics dating from the 1990s.
The unprecedented spectacle of a masked UVF gang strutting into court under the watchful eyes of the PSNI raised questions over Boutcher’s commitment to ending collusion.
Meanwhile, the intrusion by Crown Forces last month into the funeral of republican Seán Hannaway has renewed questions over the force’s harassment of republican funerals and nationalists in general
According to a Freedom of Information request, a total of 61 PSNI member were tasked to monitor the Hannaway family and friends as they made their way to requiem mass before heading to Milltown Cemetery in Belfast to lay their loved one to rest.
In an operation which cost over £13,000, armed PSNI men, armoured vehicles, two low flying helicopters, and a spotter plane were all deployed “to intrude upon a family and their grief at a deeply sad time,” Saoradh said.
“While Seán was a frequent target for harassment in life, it seems that even in death the State and the shadowy organisations that direct policing in the Six Counties could not resist one final opportunity to play their failed card at intimidating Seán’s family.
“The right to bury our dead in dignity and with the respect they deserve is one that should be afforded to everyone. That such an overtly militarised operation was mounted by the PSNI is an indicator of the lack of respect they have for human rights and their lack of any common decency.”