No one sacked over PSNI blunder after 9,500 officers' details released

Six officials missed PSNI blunder that saw personal details of nearly 9,500 officers published online but no one has been sacked or faced disciplinary action, report reveals

  • More than 660 of those named worked in intelligence and counter-terror ops 

No one will face the sack over the biggest data breach in police history which put 9,483 officers and staff in Northern Ireland at risk, it emerged today.

In a scandal estimated to cost the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as much as £240million, blundering officials mistakenly released a list identifying all of their officers and staff, including more than 660 officers working in intelligence, counter terrorism and surveillance as well as those working for MI5.

The document was checked by six officials who all failed to notice a tab containing the names before releasing it under Freedom of Information.

Yet no one has faced any disciplinary action or been sacked over the scandal, it emerged today.

Included on the list were officers working in the most sensitive roles, including those investigating dissident republican groups, close protection officers guarding politicians, judges and other VIPs from terrorists and others working in ‘secret areas’ of the force.

More than 4,000 PSNI officers and staff are suing the force for damages in a suit estimated to cost up to £37million (stock picture of PSNI officers in Belfast)

The PSNI data breach led to more than 50 officers and staff taking time away for sickness and others being forced to relocate

Previous PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne. He resigned in September after a series of controversies plagued his time as chief including the data breach

Today a report revealed that officers are now so fearful for their safety that some are too terrified to visit friends, family or even go to church.

More than 4,000 officers and staff are suing the force for damages in a civil suit estimated to cost up to £37million, with the total bill including additional security for staff and a likely fine from the Information Commissioner adding up to as much as £240 million.

READ MORE: Dissident republicans claim to be in possession of information about officers whose surnames and work locations were revealed 

The review described the FOI mistake in August as ‘the most significant data breach that has ever occurred in the history of UK policing’, saying it should serve as a ‘wakeup call for every force across the UK to take the protection and security of data and information as seriously as possible’.

It warned of ‘officers and staff now too frightened to visit friends or family, who have withdrawn from the social aspects of the lives, and who fear visiting their place of worship.’ The report concluded: ‘The potential for operational consequences for the force is high.

‘With recruitment and retention already problematic, especially amongst certain communities, this incident is unlikely to provide confidence to those wanting to become part of the service but fearing identification.’

Within days of the blunder, dissident republicans boasted that they had the list by posting a copy on a Belfast wall.

The material, which has been described by a former officer as ‘dynamite for terrorists and criminals’, was downloaded from HR systems by an official in response to a FOI question about the number of officers at each rank and grade in the force.

The information, which was placed on a hidden tab, went unnoticed when checked by a supervisor after they were called away from their desk for five-ten minutes and ‘did not remember’ anything needed to be deleted.

Checks for potential ‘harm’ were carried out by another five officials who fiddled with the font and colour of the document.

But they all failed to spot the hidden tab before the document was published online providing the surname and first initial of every employee, their rank or grade, where they are based and the unit in which they work.

Since then one officer has had to leave their home and others have temporarily relocated, although some officers were unable to do so due to financial reasons.

The data breach led to the resignation of then chief constable Simon Byrne and more than 50 sickness absences.

PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher says he is ‘extremely alive’ to the implications presented by the data breach earlier this year

Tensions in the PSNI are high amid targeted attacks on officers including Detective Chief Superintendent John Caldwell (pictured), who was shot earlier this year in an attack blamed on dissident Republicans

Pete O’Doherty, temporary commissioner from the City of London Police, who carried out the review, said: ‘This is considered to have been the most significant data breach that has ever occurred in the history of UK policing, not only because of the nature and volume of compromised data, but because of the political history and context that sets the backdrop of contemporary policing in Northern Ireland, and therefore the actual, or perceived, threats towards officers, staff, and communities.’ 

The report concluded: ‘The need to better prioritise data, information and cyber security is not recognised at a strategic level or adequately driven by executive leaders. There is no force programme or strategy.’ 

New PSNI Chief Jon Boutcher acknowledged the risk to officers today and said work was underway to provide financial aid for security arrangements in their homes.

Earlier this year senior police officer John Caldwell was shot several times outside a sports complex in Co Tyrone in an attempted murder blamed on dissident Republicans.

‘I’m extremely alive to the implications of what happened with a data breach,’ Mr Boutcher said.

‘It’s a damning indictment, particularly here, because the context of Northern Ireland, there’s no doubt about that.

‘That’s why so many of our officers and staff were taken aback by this – you only have to look at February and the attack on John Caldwell. There’s no ducking these issues.’

He added: ‘There clearly has been a failure, I think, across policing, and I certainly accept it with regards to this organisation, in not prioritising the information that we now recover and hold from all different sources in the police service.

‘We hold the most sensitive information about a broad range of people, victims, vulnerable people and we’ve got to make sure that we protect and safeguard that information in the same way as we seek to protect and safeguard people. 

‘We’re determined to put this right.’

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