The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Blanket Interview: Hugh Orde


Carrie Twomey & Anthony McIntyre • 25 October 2004

Blanket: When you assumed command of the PSNI you found a desperate shortage of detectives. If that shortfall has since been made up has it not subsequently been compromised by extending the remit of the Serious Crime Review Team to investigate old killings? Many who support the police would argue that investigative energy should go into tracing the killers of, for example, Danny McColgan, Joe O'Connor, Danny McGurk and John Allen. Given that there is little chance of prosecution, is there not a political motive governing the expansion of the Serious Crime Review Team, i.e. reminding Sinn Fein that if the party presses on with its demand for inquiries it might uncover a few buried skeletons along the way?

Hugh Orde: That's a complicated question. A number of things. There was a substantial shortage of detectives. In my judgement we needed about 200 more than we had two years ago. A lot of that is a function of Patten which is well rehearsed. People left and there wasn't a real strategy about replacing them. We advertised and selected about 180 officers who started the process that makes them detectives. You don’t make detectives overnight. But now those officers have two years service and have moved around the place, into both districts and major investigation teams. Crime Review is one part of Major Investigations Crime Operations Group. It is looking backwards. The first task of that group is to look at cases that are 28 days old, not 28 years old. The more recent cases are the primary work of the Serious Crime Review Team, and then they turn to other cases.

There is a debate where I am saying, in terms of history I want to look at every case. Now, no one has ever tried that before. This is big business. We need additional resources. So it has not compromised current investigations. In fact we are more fit for purpose now than we ever were in history in terms of dealing with serious crime as it happens. And our clear up rates for murder are up actually. So that is looking OK.

In terms of the latter part of your question – political motive – I don’t do politics on that. I ran major crime investigations in South London and I know that the Serious Crime Review team is an essential part of investigating current crime as well as old crime. So what we are doing is no different to anyone else. If that is politics, so be it. In terms of fall-out while doing that, it is a matter for others. It is not my business. I will do it because it is what police do. The point you make is a good point. There may be all sorts of people across the divide who have moved on in their worlds and who may come under some sort of focus if I look at cases from 10, 20, 30 years ago. Now, whether that means it gets to evidential standards, it is a big mental leap.

Blanket: Your experience of the Finucane case can leave you little room for confidence in relation to unsolved cases. You also favour some form of international commission. But how could a body working towards truth and reconciliation here produce anything of substance? What confidence would the unionist community have in it if, for example, Sinn Fein leaders were to maintain their 'truth' that they were never members of the IRA? Given nationalist experience of state foot-dragging and stonewalling, typified recently in the restricted nature of the Finucane inquiry, what confidence could it possibly have in the ability of a TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] to elicit truth from state personnel? Would a TRC not just be an exercise in one-upmanship, a stick with which to beat opponents over the head, and in which truths unpalatable to the 'other side' are all that is being sought? Surely that is the sort of truth that polarises rather than reconciles? Is the whole Truth and Reconciliation discourse not merely a dance of deceit?

Hugh Orde: We solved Finucane from a police perspective. Or we solved part of Finucane; someone was charged and sentenced to 22 years which is a fairly substantial sentence regardless of what happens post-event which is obviously not within my power. From a police perspective it was a huge effort. Could we create that 2000 times? No, of course we can’t. I can do my bit and I will review all the cases. I do make an observation that there are other ways of dealing with history. I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong in that. I don’t think it is my business to do anything other than raise the issue. I can only do part of this. And the point you make, yes, that is one interpretation of it. But other people must look at that. The point I make about an international commission is that there needs to be some sort of activity around it to come up with whatever they think may work here. I don’t think my officers reviewing cases with a view to disclosing to families as much as we can – which is different – that is not the whole picture. Others need to engage. Don’t just leave history to policing because we can’t fix it. Whether it is a dance of deceit or not – that’s a good line – everyone will have their own view on this. Everyone has their own view on this. We do something or we do nothing as a community. Now, if we continue to do nothing, I’m not sure that that moves us on. It is difficult territory.

Blanket: In the case of Finucane, the family wants to know who gave orders. So how does the PSNI fit into chasing it beyond the trigger man conviction?

Hugh Orde: That’s a good question. We can only pursue whatever we can to evidential standard. To get a conviction in Northern Ireland you need a very solid case. We do the work and we then form a view whether or not we can take it to court. In the case of Finucane we took to court what we thought the director could prosecute. The director chooses. That’s what we do. That is all we can do. I cannot fix the rest of it. There are all sorts of models of how you could deal with history in different ways, but again, you can’t just pull something off the shelf. Other people outside policing who understand this business far better than I do need to come together to look at what they can do.

Blanket: Just hypothetically, if they have the evidence would the PSNI be able to go after the people in government?

Hugh Orde: Yes. We can pursue whomever we want to pursue. No one has got in my way in that sense. You go where the evidence takes you. And if the evidence takes us to difficult places we go into difficult places. We do that all the time. No one can tell us not what to do. It would be a high risk strategy for someone to try and tell me what I cannot do.

Blanket: In Saturday's Irish Times you stated the ostensible objective of the Serious Crime Review Team: i.e. 'we could communicate that which we do know to families and friends of victims.' Is this not something better fulfilled by investigative journalism? The police after all have been players in many of these matters.

Hugh Orde: 2000 murders; I’m not sure it is right to say players in 'many'. It is a bit of a leap. I think a number of people play in this world. One of the things I was determined to do when I got here was to work out what we did have. So we got this massive project of getting all these papers from all these cases together in one place so we would have a proper archive of what we had; all the exhibits that are left. But lots of exhibits have gone. The Forensic lab was blown up twice, I think, once substantially. Papers have gone missing. Now, there may or may not be something sinister in that – most of it not sinister. If I was in London looking for cases thirty years ago I am not optimistic that I would find the papers. But what we are going to do is find out what we have got, then we will review what is in them to see if there are opportunities. And new opportunities have emerged around forensics. Now, other people play in that field and I am not saying that they should not. But I may have stuff that I can communicate to families because I own it. Now historically, if you look at a lot of these cases, we have had the sort of legal argument around ‘we are not telling you this, we are not telling you that because we may compromise future investigations.’ Now my plan - I think radical is the wrong word – is looking at these cases differently when we get to a conclusion. And the hard facts will be that some of these cases we can go no further with. Then we look at what we can communicate to the families because many families and individuals have told me they don’t want retribution. They are just interested in what happened and I think we can help. It may bring closure.

Blanket: Do you not think investigative journalism is more capable of doing it?

Hugh Orde: Investigative journalism can play in the same world but I don’t think they are more capable because I don’t think they know as much as I do about some of these cases. It is as simple as that.

Blanket: In Spain, solid investigative journalism has served many of the functions that would be expected from a TRC. Because of it few people now doubt that the Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez was up to its neck in the murder of Basque ETA opponents and civilians. But, here you have adopted a heavy-handed approach to journalism. People who have reported on matters the state has found embarrassing have been on the receiving end of search, confiscate and arrest operations, such as Kathy Johnson and Liam Clarke. Your present interviewers have had their home searched and material essential to journalism confiscated. The Stevens team, which you led for a time, is best remembered in the journalistic world for having pursued Ed Moloney in a bid to access his notes. Such an approach if persisted with would stifle investigative journalism. These matters would run contrary to your ostensible promotion of freedom of information and serve to deprive society of a powerful weapon in the pursuit of truth.

Hugh Orde: I don’t want to comment on some of those cases because they are still running. Ed Moloney was interesting actually in that two judges out of three thought we had a sound case. It is not something we do lightly. You can’t have it both ways. If you are looking to pursue someone for the murder of someone like Finucane and someone you think has relative evidence who can arrest and convict the person, then as an investigator you go for it; nothing sinister in that. Same as national security stuff which involves one of those cases. It is a fine balance I guess. But I am not interested in pursuing journalists. It is not my raison d’etre.

Blanket: The murder of Marty O'Hagan by loyalist drug dealers robbed society of an investigative journalist. His colleagues are less than impressed by the seriousness of the PSNI investigation. It is believed that his killers remain at large because some of them were agents of RUC Special Branch. This is reinforced by the failure of the PSNI to implement your stated intention of getting loyalist killers for other activity for which they can be convicted. Many journalists believe O'Hagan's killers are immune from such provision.

Hugh Orde: It is hard to do the detail on these cases. But a number of loyalists are in prison for other things and some are currently awaiting trial for very serious murders. We are getting there on that. More work to do, don’t get me wrong, but I am confident that we will have some good news stories in the next year. No one stays at large because they are an agent, if they have committed a serious crime. You will be aware of the Stevens recommendations which I was heavily involved with. We have reviewed all our informants. Informants are a necessary evil in policing. Every service needs intelligence and needs information. It is how you handle it and it is what is acceptable in that role. And that is difficult. That’s a difficult piece of territory. That is why I completely reorganised Crime Operations Group; it is why we centralised intelligence under a uniformed chief superintendent; it is why all my Crime Operations Group’s activities are under a career detective, a person with a history in investigation of crime rather than building pictures. Because if you have intelligence you do something with it, you don’t build pictures. There is a danger of us becoming too clever. I am determined to deal with those sorts of issues. If an informant steps over the line all bets are off in my book. And God help any one in my organisation who tries to protect them.

Blanket: The manner in which the Finucane inquiry is being organised by the British government - an in-house investigation to quote the current Secretary of State - suggests to those most alienated from your police force that the real issues are not going to be dealt with. As Michael Finucane put it, collusion between the state and loyalists went right to the top. What do you say to those who feel that the Finucane case cannot be satisfactorily concluded outside of a context in which total disclosure is forthcoming regarding the role of Brian Nelson and the agent referred to as Stakeknife?

Hugh Orde: That is a slightly unfair question in the sense that it is a matter for government. I will make sure that the inquiry will get anything I have in my possession. One of the strengths of Finucane from our perspective is that we spent three years collecting just about everything I think that exists so it is available. The judge, or whatever the structure is, will get whatever they want. The other points are wider points outside policing. I will give them whatever they want but it is for others to decide whether it is public, private or a combination.

Blanket: Collusion would appear to have been endemic within all sections of the British security forces and in particular RUC Special Branch. Not one RUC member came forward to blow the whistle. Many of those are now allegedly senior members of the PSNI. Furthermore, Sinn Fein is hardly wrong in claiming that substantial numbers of those involved in the 'activity of the night' are still under your command. Is there not a conflict of interest on your part in that as former day to day manager of the Stevens team you in your current role as chief constable have 'forbidden knowledge' of certain people under your command and such knowledge prohibits you from having a more robustly frank relationship with the public?

Hugh Orde: If there is one thing I have had since I have been here it is a fairly frank and robust conversation with the public - unless the papers are making it all up. I say it as I see it. I always have. I said that when I came. I also said if anyone got in my way I would walk out the door and they haven’t, in fairness to both secretaries of state. They do not interfere with me doing policing. I think is a big step to say that collusion was endemic with all sides. I don’t think that is the case. And that is a police perspective after two and a half years of looking at it in a reasonable amount of detail. Also, don’t underestimate the impact of Patten on the numbers. As a result of Patten more special branch officers left than any other part of the organisation. The world has moved on. Those would no doubt be officers of all abilities from the outstanding to those any organisation would be happy to see the back of, because that’s the spectrum of people we have in this organisation. The vast majority of cops I have had dealings with since I have been here do not cause me concern. If they did I would do something about it. I don’t agree there is a conflict of interests.

Blanket: Despite the changes that Patten ushered in, there are still major concerns about policing. There is evidence of forensic malpractice in the case of Noel Abernathy; also in the case of Martin Brogan and Mark Carroll. All three were acquitted as a result. Seamus Doherty remains in custody for no apparent reason other than investigating officers being able to cover their tracks. Four people were acquitted in the Coalisland rocket launcher case. The trial judge was scathing of PSNI practice. This suggests that in the face of a very low key and inept republican armed campaign the police are prepared to use extralegal measures to, in terms used by Brigadier Frank Kitson, 'dispose of unwanted members of the public.' If the campaign was on a par with that waged by the Provisional IRA, it seems that such extralegal policing activities would be multiplied many times. It creates the impression of little real change having occurred within policing.

Hugh Orde: No it doesn’t. In terms of the ombudsman investigation into that, read it. I think it is public. She found no malpractice. The notion that we were trying to pressurise a scientist into falsifying evidence is not right. And that is what the ombudsman found – it didn’t happen. And that was not just the ombudsman; that was independent scientific experts brought in by the ombudsman from the United Kingdom by the ombudsman to look at everything that was done in that case. Didn’t happen, so I take issue with that. Some of the issues around the rocket launcher are extremely complicated, loaded ones around how disclosure is handled here compared to other parts of the United Kingdom. Acquittal was the outcome. We have had a review of all of those. I don’t think those cases give you the right to say little has changed, loads have changed.

Blanket: Regardless of how the police behave Sinn Fein is clearly going to support the PSNI at a time most advantageous to itself …

Hugh Orde: Who have you been reading?

Blanket: … It may well do so while you are chief constable. What do you regard as the main reason for the party's procrastination? Gerry Kelly has argued that the key issue remains the MI5 control of intelligence. Even under a devolved policing and justice system would such control be ceded? After all, the PSNI is a British police force.

Hugh Orde: We are the Police Service of Northern Ireland (laughs). Sinn Fein on policing – I think you're right. I think it is a question of timing but you better ask them. I’m sure you have an outstanding relationship with them, I shall have a quick chat with you about it! I think it may happen while I am here. I am here for another three years. I think you are right, I think that could happen. In terms of democratic control of policing it should happen. They have a substantial 24% of the vote, something like that. It does seem logical that they would want to influence policing. But it is a matter for them when they come on. Timing – why procrastinate? Ask them. I don’t know. I have said from the day I started they should be on it. I have not changed my views since then. In terms of MI5, I am unique in the United Kingdom. As a matter of fact national security is controlled elsewhere by MI5. Here it is controlled by me.

Blanket: It is still the United Kingdom?

Hugh Orde: Oh, absolutely. You need to ask government really rather than me; I’ll do whatever the law says. But it would seem a bit strange – I am not sure you devolve responsibility for something that is a national issue.

Blanket: So we wouldn’t see that happening?

Hugh Orde: What?

Blanket: MI5 control of intelligence being devolved to the North.

Hugh Orde: A matter for government, it is as simple as that, it is not a matter for policing.

Blanket: Gerry Adams met with John Stevens.

Hugh Orde: Did he?!

Blanket: This was less about Stevens and more about preparing the ground to meet you?

Hugh Orde: I’m not sure the commissioner would have that view. I will meet with anyone that has an interest in making a positive contribution to policing. I will stand by that. I have been in the same room as him.

Blanket: Would you compare Adams' inexorable inching towards the PSNI as akin to Arthur Scargill advising his miners to join the Yorkshire branch of the British police?

Hugh Orde: I’m not sure there is a Yorkshire branch of the British police.

Blanket: It is a British branch of the British police.

Hugh Orde: (Laughs) I am not too sure of the point you are trying to make here.

Blanket: I’m basically saying that for all the fighting, what we still have is a British police force. It is a tongue in cheek question – you can pass on it.

Hugh Orde: Pass!

Blanket: Some people feel excluded by the peace process. Paddy Murray is being threatened and attacked incessantly in Antrim by the Provisional IRA. Davy Adams has being subject to a similar campaign in Lisburn waged by the UDA. What grip do organisations like the IRA and UDA have on their communities?

Hugh Orde: Still substantial. I think they are losing it in places. And I think they are losing it in places where we are proving we are capable of protecting communities. Parts of West Belfast – I am not saying West Belfast is perfect – if you look at the issues around car crime in West Belfast, for me that is a role model. It’s around people realising that we can protect them and as a result are prepared to engage. They may want third parties. They may want local priests to help out and all that sort of stuff. But it shows to me that organisations are losing their grip in some places. The difficulty is that where fear is the key, it is very hard for people to make that big step to come and give us intelligence and evidence, if the consequences are extreme violence. By devolving power to my districts, and I have done, they know how to deal better with communities than I do. And they are. And in places they are making a big difference.

Blanket: What would the IRA have to do in your view to demonstrate that it is no longer a player? Are there alternatives to disbandment? Indeed, following your recent pronouncements that you could accept the idea of those "closely associated" with paramilitaries keeping the peace in "their communities" is there not a possibility that the IRA will continue to exist because it will control its own communities? What then are the connotations for community policing?

Hugh Orde: What recent pronouncements are those then?

Blanket: They were referred to in a letter in the Telegraph

Hugh Orde: What have I been saying? !

Blanket: … by David Vance. David Vance wrote a letter into the Telegraph and quoted you: ‘closely associated’ and in ‘their communities’.

Hugh Orde: I’m not sure where he got it from. The bigger point is they have to go away; dead easy – they have to go away. The definition of what going away is seems to be a moveable feast. Disbandment is sort of what success looks like it seems to me. They have to accept that there is no longer a need for a standing army. So I am very clear on that. I am not sure what he is referring to frankly.

Blanket: After or around the time of the parades issue in Ardoyne you made a comment [about relying on community activists]…

Hugh Orde: I know what it is. That is the hard truth of the complexity of policing. In a way it is a positive thing. It means whether they like it or not those who have a grip on their communities are engaging with us. So they know - the reality is they realise we have value, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. The scary bit of that question is the suggestion that they want to control people. I don’t want to control people, I want to protect them. And that is exactly what community policing is all about.

If in the transitional period – and this is a very complex territory to police – it means there are relationships with people which in other worlds you would not want to have, then so be it. Because if that is the way we protect people, that is the way we protect people. I think what you do by doing that is that over time you get people to understand where we are coming from, and then they can stand back from their role, is over time engage with us with a more positive and open mind.

Blanket: When you talk about community policing, what it would mean in Balmoral vis a vis Ballymurphy is completely different. As an American who would have a different concept of community policing which I think is more in line with the type of thing you are suggesting to be implemented here, where the community would rely on police. Then you have cops on the beat, on foot, knowing the community, interacting, a real ‘healthy’ policing situation.

Hugh Orde: I’m not sure I would take that as the model of American policing I have seen. That’s a lovely vision but the places in the states I have been I have seen nothing like that. But anyway, it is a minor point.

Blanket: Such a lovely vision would be more in line than what 'community policing' means to somebody living in Ballymurphy, which is kneecapping, intimidation.

Hugh Orde: That’s true.

Blanket: So when you say that you rely on community activists in a time of contention, and then you want community policing, it just raises the question how can that be married? Because if you want to rely on the PSNI to police those areas and serve those areas, yet they are relying on the same people that are basically keeping those areas under fear and under the thumb – how can you reconcile …

Hugh Orde: You break the circle. That is a negative interpretation of what we are doing. What we are doing is we are getting into the communities and convincing them we can protect them. As a result you actually put on the side the paramilitaries who protect through fear, for the want of a better description. This is not a constructive way. We are constructive, they are negative. As that transition takes place I have never said we want to associate with people who go round blowing people’s kneecaps off. And I think it is fair to say that the people we do deal with don’t necessarily fit in that sort of definition. I think they are people who have already made the mental leap that by engaging with us they have already moved away from that and they are on that periphery of ‘can I make the next big step?’ I don’t have that negative view of community policing here. We are doing community policing, they are not. They are committing crime and if we can prove that we are going to arrest them and lock them up. And we have done that. There are a number of people who exactly fit that model who are currently in custody because we have dealt with them.

Blanket: Would those mainly be on the loyalist side?

Hugh Orde: The last one that springs instantly to mind is on the opposite side, actually - just arrested last week. It is a matter of record that someone is arrested and charged.

Blanket: Under your predecessor, there was a marked reluctance to employ 'frankness and bluntness', characteristics ascribed to you by Kent University. When you sprang straight out of the traps to publicly identify the organisation you believed had shot and beaten Derry man Danny McBrearty, there was anticipation that you had broken with the fudge you inherited. Was this consistent with a more rigorous application by the state to the management of the peace process - in order to squeeze the IRA the British government began closing down the space for 'creative ambiguity’? Do you see your task being to close down republican wriggle room?

Hugh Orde: Wriggle room – it is a great line, wriggle room. No, it is not my task. My task is to say it as I see it. And that is what I have done. If something deserves to be attributed because I think I am absolutely clear that Group A or Group B did it, I will do it. It is not something I do lightly. I do it when I think it is right. But no one tells me when to do it, no one says ‘do it’ or ‘don’t do it.’ My call. And I am happy for my district commanders to do exactly the same.

Blanket: Any future agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP to form a new British administration at Stormont will be subject to some form of report/assessment from yourself in relation to ongoing IRA activity. Will the demands of the peace process require that you depart from your own stated practice and subsequently fudge the matter? Would you stand on principle as stated two years ago and resign before allowing such a fudge to occur?

Hugh Orde: Are you trying to get rid of me, are you?! Of course I would. The point is very clear. Police do the police bit. And if you look at what we have done in the last sort of two years, we stand on our own record. Some things we have done would not have pleased, I suspect, various people from various persuasions in terms of politics north or south of the border or Westminster. We have just got to do what we do and let the other bits work around us. And that is where I intend to stay and no one has asked me to move from that.

Blanket: Do you ever fear that if you overstep the mark here you could walk the same plank as John Stalker?

Hugh Orde: I'm still here (laughs). That is my answer to that. You have to have a vision for where you want to go and you got to know how you are going to get there. And that means if you have to deal with difficult issues you deal with them. And we have dealt with some difficult issues. Go back two years and look at the things we dealt with. Stalker is (a) a long time ago and (b) there are mixed views on that particular inquiry and investigation.

Blanket: At the recent appreciation for Jack Holland you chose a reading from his book Hope Against History. In that reading Holland effectively concluded that the IRA had been defeated. What was the significance of you choosing that reading?

Hugh Orde: It was the last page of the last chapter if I remember rightly. It was actually around his vision for the future. The point for me was, 'we can move this on.' It was at a time when we were looking at dealing with the history in our bit but trying to generate other people's activity - bringing other people into other ways of dealing with history. He had already forseen that things were moving on. He was a good guy.

Blanket: He was. But did you agree with his assessment that the IRA have being defeated?

Hugh Orde: Well, the word 'defeated' - has the IRA moved on? They haven't attacked my people, they haven't attacked soldiers. I am on record as saying what I think they are still doing and I think they need to move on from that. They have moved on - it would be a brave chief who would say they have been defeated.

Blanket: We would be meeting with the Garda Commissioner if they hadn't been defeated.

Hugh Orde: (Laughs).

Blanket: Have IRA weapons thus far decommissioned been put beyond use in such a way that there are no circumstances under which the organisation can access and activate them for future usage? Can you indicate the quantities involved?

Hugh Orde: No I can't. The whole principle of decommissioning under de Chastelain is that we don't know. You do genuinely need to speak to de Chastelain about that. He is a man of very high integrity and I think he sees the bigger picture. I think what is interesting is the debate currently around decommissioning in the future. The DUP are not going to live with anything other [than], according to the papers, some very visual display of decommissioning or a Steven Spielberg - there was a quote in the press this week - production.

Blanket: Well, they are not going to live with a photograph of four men looking into a hole which they can't see the bottom of.

Hugh Orde: No.

Blanket: Society is generally aware of the links between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. Would you care to comment on the links between the DUP and loyalist militias, given that Harry Barnes MP intends to enlighten us on this matter in the British House of Commons later this week?

Hugh Orde: No, not really. It is going to be interesting to see what Harry Barnes MP is going to say about it, frankly. The IMC is interesting on this stuff around the PUP. But that is, one could argue, fringe loyalism, rather than mainstream loyalism. I think in fairness to both those parties they are different; they are different.

Blanket: There is a considerable racist problem in the North. Your force has not won the confidence of the ethnic communities in a way that it has won the respect of the Gay community. Barbara Muldoon of the Anti Racist Network claims that police response times and detection rate are wholly inadequate. There is also some anecdotal evidence to suggest that in at least one of your stations situated in the mouth of a racist heartland there is a dearth of forward thinking when it comes to tackling racism. Racist sentiment is said to exist in the station in addition to the response time to allegations of racist activity being poor. Furthermore, I have been in the company of black anti-racist activist David Carlin when PSNI members harassed him for no apparent reason other than his colour.

Hugh Orde: I don't know about individual cases; do we take it serious? Yes, we do. In terms of the level of the problem compared to other parts of the United Kingdom – very low, about one crime a day. Now, that does not mean they are not important, don't get me wrong. But it is not the level of any other major city in the United Kingdom. Partly that is because our minority population is very small - about 1%, very important, but it is about 1%. In terms of determination - well, two people were arrested yesterday for an assault on the Portuguese guy in Portadown. A number of people are in custody as a result of racist offences so we do take it seriously. So I refute that. There's more we can do. I have been involved with some of the communities personally. We have had conferences where not only did we have just about every community group represented, we also managed to get Stephen Lawrence’s family's lawyer Khan over - the first time ever he has spoken at a police conference. So, are we looking at doing things differently? Yes, we are. Still more we can do, no doubt about that.

At Mela two months ago, it was staggering. 5000 people in Botantic Gardens. You had Indian community, Black community, Portuguese community, Filipinos and white. And I would say 60-70% white. The notion that we can't live together - 70% of that group were white people. No press coverage at all, because it was a good news event. You say that we are not committed. I had my community teams there. I had borrowed two Asian officers - I don't have any - from West Yorkshire who came over and were patrolling in full uniform. I had my domestic violence unit there - big issue in the Asian community, domestic violence. I even had my traffic people there. My commitment, I would say, was higher than any other public sector organisation. We even gave money to make it happen. That's how committed we are. Do I have the odd ...? Of course I have. But we are pretty committed.

Blanket: The odd what?

Hugh Orde: Is there an odd racist? Of course there is.

Blanket: Are there sanctions?

Hugh Orde: Of course there are. It is against the Code of Ethics. But everybody was there all ages, shapes and sizes. It was great.

Blanket: The police have sent in riot squads to remove the street traders in Belfast city centre. They also aggressively policed an anti-war demonstration in front of Belfast City Hall last year, at one point using batons against school children. In the eyes of many people this is over the top policing with the PSNI targeting those least able to cause political controversy. Yet a widespread black market exists around diesel, cigarettes and counterfeit goods which for the most part continues unabated and its administrators indifferent to the law. In loyalist communities the drugs trade flourishes pretty openly. Is there a softly-softly approach being adopted in communities run by armed militias and a more aggressive approach for the city centre where those targeted by the police lack sufficient political muscle with which to evade police attention?

Hugh Orde: Hmm ... you don't do good news, do you? In terms of street trading, we use TSG [Tactical Support Group]. Riot squads are a big mental leap. If you speak to the business people in those communities and indeed, if you speak to the DPP in those communities and those who represent those communities, it is a very big issue for them. I have seen it operate. I dispute the term 'heavy handed policing.' We use TSG. 'Riot squads' is over emotional. In terms of the anti war demonstration, I am not aware that there have been any complaints, not around school children and batons. I dispute that.

Blanket: I am relaying it to you as a witness who was there on the day.

Hugh Orde: If there is an issue around heavy handedness, I would encourage that person to go and see the ombudsman. We have the most accountable police service in the United Kingdom. We have a totally independent complaints system which stands on its own record and I stand on supporting it. In terms of the black market, you see, you don't do good news. We have been extremely successful against that. Major operation, cross border with the Guards recently. Just one example, this weekend, £74,000 worth of illegal goods seized; fireworks which blow people's hands off - all this sort of stuff. Most of which feeds paramilitarism. Yes, we are dealing with it. Lots of people are in custody because we deal with it. We seize more counterfeit goods than the other 42 police forces put together in the United Kingdom. Drugs trade – drugs seizures up 35% last year. Some major players arrested last year are now in custody, big operators. So I dispute all of that really, not surprisingly. And the suggestion that we are that organised that we can target one group without targeting another gives us a credibility we probably don’t deserve.

Blanket: People have a democratic right to be protected both from the state and by the state. Yet it seems in West Belfast's Lower Falls, many in the community feel totally abandoned in the face of a tidal wave of anti-social disorder. Reports convey a nightmare situation reminiscent of life in a US jail - everybody for themselves and the weakest get screwed. It is unimaginable that that this would be allowed to continue in Cultra. There must be a question of economic status here - people from the wrong side of the class tracks are not being offered the same amount of state protection as others in a higher economic category.

Hugh Orde: Reading that, you know, you would think that we were in some third world country where crime is desperate. We have the fourth lowest crime rate in the whole of the United Kingdom per thousand population. Two Welsh forces and I think it is Cumbria have a lower crime rate than us per thousand. If you look at violent crime we are right in the middle of forty plus forces, we are nowhere near the worst. We have reduced burglary more than any other force in the United Kingdom. We have reduced car crime. And the biggest drop in car crime is in West Belfast. If that is abandoning people, then so be it. So, let’s sort of get a balance here. If you talk to people in Cultra they will scream that they are not policed at all. That’s because you put your cops where people need protecting most. So, I disagree with that. In terms of economic status, we can’t be held responsible for varying levels of economic wealth within Northern Ireland. My responsibility is to protect all the people in Northern Ireland. I am not a fan of protecting some ruling elite. I am a fan of protecting those who need to be protected whatever their class. Do we get it right? Not always.

Blanket: Patten called for 50:50 recruiting along religious lines. Would it not be more progressive to have 50:50 recruiting along gender lines? Or is this society to be stuck in its sectarian rut for the foreseeable future?

Hugh Orde: At the risk of giving you even more good news, I have just written a piece recently which may or may not get into Police Review on what we have done. I am a supporter of 50:50 in the context of how we do it here. One of the problems - back to your diversity question – it is Catholic/non-Catholic. Minority groups fit in non-Catholic. But because they are so small I have asked the question are we actually discriminating against minority groups that want to join us? And that is a piece of work we need to look at. And if there is a problem we need to address it. But we were under-represented with female officers. The average in the UK is about 17%. We have set ourselves a target of over 26% over the next number of years. We are currently up to the national average. A third of new recruits are women. That is higher than any other police service. We are not stuck in a rut.

Blanket: What protection is being provided for builders who are subject to widespread intimidation and extortion in loyalist areas? Builders report that because they employ Catholics they pay up in every single loyalist area in which they work in order to protect their workforce. They face prosecution from the police when they do pay up. Yet the extortionists walk onto sites openly and lay down their terms. In one case this activity goes on yards from a PSNI station, incidentally the same station referred to earlier in relation to the racist problem.

Hugh Orde: The racist problem – I am not sure there is. I need to look at that. That is your assertion. We did a presentation on extortion for the police board last year. And whenever we get a complainant, we get a conviction. I have made a representation to the judiciary saying that when people do stand up and be counted it is really unhelpful if they (extortionists) get two or three years imprisonment. Because what you are talking about is potentially destroying someone’s livelihood. They have to move out because of the small world in which we live. In a recent case we appealed the sentence of an extortionist and the Lord Chief Justice increased the sentence quite substantially and made the point that the next extortionist that comes in front of him is looking at ten years. There are a number of people currently in the judicial process charged with extortion. It will be interesting to see how that develops. Are we committed to doing it? Yes, we are. Are we committed to protect witnesses? Yes, we will do everything we can. But we need a complainant. It is one of those crimes, I think, as we get more trust in our ability to protect people we will get more complainants. Then you start to dismantle the whole thing. We have done all sorts of interesting work around extortion which has led to convictions. And I am confident now that the sentencing bit will mirror or complement the work we are doing. This is a fixable problem. It is around police, community and business working together. Extortionists should not be seen as some acceptable cost within the system.

Blanket: On the question of police accountability it has been suggested by some observers that few if any have been questioned or arrested, never mind charged in relation to any of the numerous incidents of threats, attacks and intimidation directed against DPP members across the province. Is this an indication that the local police aren't very happy with having DPPs in place and are only doing the bare minimum required in investigative terms?

Hugh Orde: You are doing your negative stuff again, aren’t you? No, it is not. Let me give you an example. A number of substantial operations have been run and arrests have been made in relation to this. So I am a bit constrained about some of it. When Strabane came under that real focus, I went up there one night. No one knew I was going including me until I decided – I was watching it on the telly at ten o’clock. And I thought I would go up there. I got there about half eleven at night or a quarter to twelve. No one knew I was coming until five minutes before I got there because that’s when we called them up to let them know we were coming in. The first thing I found was a superintendent in his office with a strategy and a meeting. I found additional officers tasked with going out doing random patrols, high visibility patrols, road blocks. Some of these people live out in the middle of nowhere. I went out to visit a number of locations where these people lived. I came across TSG, a riot squad. I found two or three of those officers in the middle of nowhere. Because they were protecting those people. We are doing an awful lot. And we have arrested people. Feel free to speak to any of my district commanders – of the 28 DPPs we have in place, I think they are maturing into something that is pretty useful. And I think they are pretty brave people who have said they want to engage in policing. I think it is a real positive where people are prepared to take it and not only that, not give up. Very few people have left DPPs which prove it doesn’t work. If those dissidents want to go on being really big people going around targeting innocent people, who want to engage in policing and influence policing of their communities, then it is going to be an issue. But it says more about dissident republicans that it says about my people or the people who want to stand up and engage.

Blanket: There are also people being intimidated in unionist areas.

Hugh Orde: Yes. Absolutely. Yes.

Blanket: Bruce Anderson writing in the Belfast Telegraph referred to the criminal subculture that has been the outcome of the peace process and which could take decades to eradicate. It doesn't really get much worse, does it?

Hugh Orde: I give up. I give up. That’s it! I just told you how much worse it could get.

Blanket: Are you prepared to comment on who robbed Iceland in Strabane, Macro in Belfast, the Gallagher’s cigarette factory?

Hugh Orde: We said Gallagher’s is republican. But I will not go any further, I need to know more about it. As I said earlier, I don’t really attribute unless I am clear. It doesn’t really get much worse? Yes, it does get much worse. As I said to Ian Paisley after the last policing board when we were trying to convince him that the statistics were real and that crime was down 10%, ‘I’ll take you to other parts of the United Kingdom. I’ll show you what scare is.’ Two weeks ago there was a headline, ‘Police put flak jackets on in Ballymena.’ In most cities in the United Kingdom police officers wear anti-ballistic and stab-proof armour twenty-four hours a day. We don’t do that here. If people want to really believe this is an awful place we live in then I suggest go look elsewhere, and then come back and see how lucky we are. It doesn’t mean it can’t get better. There is a lot to do. I am not negating all the issues we need to face up to. An awful lot of good work is going on. 14,000 less victims of crime this year compared to last year seems to me a good news story. In terms of the outcome of the peace process, are the paramilitaries going to go into nine to five office jobs? Unlikely. Many – dissident republicans in particular - have become very used to a reasonably good lifestyle because they can commit ordinary crime using terrorist tactics. That is what we have to break. Because that makes you quite an effective sort of criminal gang. But they are badly disrupted. We are getting pretty effective against them. I think at some stage communities will turn against them. The notion that you can continue to intimidate because you have the guns I think will move on.

Blanket: What about Iceland and Macro - any comment?

Hugh Orde: One sells frozen food and one sells things in bulk!

Blanket: No clarity on who – no suspects?

Hugh Orde: (Shakes head in the negative).

Blanket: Does the PSNI constitute the disbandment of the RUC?

Hugh Orde: On 4/11/2001, the name changed. It has got a different name.

Blanket: I would love to leave it at that – it is a great answer but …

Hugh Orde: This is a very dynamic organisation and a lot of people like to do us damage all the time. But I have been around pretty much all of it now. And there things you get frustrated about and you want to change it more quickly. But if you look at the amount of change we have undertaken, much of which is to convince people we are capable of moving in modern times, we are capable of using modern investigative techniques. We have done it. I can’t see any other organisation in Northern Ireland that has moved as quickly as we have in terms of reorganising and restructuring. If you look at recruiting, we now have over a thousand officers who have only worked in the PSNI. Those are front line officers because that is the only place they can be with up to two years service. They can’t be anywhere else. That is not to say PSNI good – RUC Bad. That is a really stupid thing to say. The point is, [like] any organisation our size – even the Met – we have good cops and bad cops.

Blanket: Is Freddie Scappaticci the agent Stakeknife?

Hugh Orde: We never talk about who is and who is not an informant.

Blanket: Apart from intelligence reports what do you read? Who or what are the intellectual influences in your life?

Hugh Orde: That is a great assumption that I read intelligence reports! I do read intelligence reports. In this world, by the time you read all the stuff that hits my desk, general policing stuff and all that, and the papers – if you are not depressed by all of that – there is not much time to read. Well, you have seen my top shelf. I read a lot about this place – Ireland north and south. I think you can learn a lot from history. And I also read Spike Milligan.

Blanket: I see you also read Ed Moloney.

Hugh Orde: He is quite good. I like Ed Moloney’s stuff.

Blanket: How did you assess his book - The Secret History of the IRA?

Hugh Orde: The problem I have, of course, is I come from a very different world. I think it is quite well written. I think some of the books that come from here are terribly, badly written. I think it is quite well written.

Blanket: Do you think it is an accurate account of the peace process?

Hugh Orde: Currently, I was just reading last night about where did Sinn Fein come into it – 1917 and that sort of stuff, and trying to get my head around how we got from there to where we are now. And the links between Sinn Fein and the IRA, which is an inextricable link. I do not profess in any way to be an expert on Irish history. But I thought it was one of the better reads. What else do I read? I don’t read - I don’t read an awful lot more than that sort of stuff – I need help!

Blanket: Bernadette McAliskey once said the degree to which one is Irish is the degree to which you have been sucked in by the troubles and mauled by them.

Hugh Orde: I think that is a good point. People ask me why did I come here. I would never have walked into this job having not done Stevens. I think you have to have some idea about what you are doing. No one here would say it is a worse place now than it was ten years ago. I think this is a very different place. I think it is different in two years. I came here because I thought I could make a difference. I think it is also about making big brave decisions. It has always been said dealing in history has been always too difficult. I don’t think that is the get-out anymore for anybody. I can do my bit. Others will have to decide what they want to do.

Blanket: “Everyone has their part to play”?

Hugh Orde: Yes. But I think it is right that we do our bit. And I don’t think we should wait for others to come in behind us. I think we should move on that.

Blanket: Did you ever think that you would be quoted as being influenced by Bobby Sands?

Hugh Orde: I didn’t say that. I think you should communicate with everyone. Why are we having this conversation? Why did I speak to the families of Loughgall? It was important. It is important to understand everyone’s history if you are going to police them. Why do I speak to David Wright? Same reason. What I have learned here is that whoever you speak to it upsets someone. We will wait and see who this upsets. We have to have our own view on where we should go as cops. The more views you get in your mind when you are making your decisions, I think the better you are going to be. But, it is difficult.

Blanket: One question that we forgot to type up …

Hugh Orde: Crikey, you have got more.

Blanket: One last one. There are reports about the Republican Movement’s winding down and disbanding the IRA; one thing being suggested is Sinn Fein’s absorbing the redundant volunteers of the IRA and telling them that they would be going into political espionage. ‘Political Intelligence Unit’, I think it is being called. Tying in with something along those lines, there have been a number of protests about CCTV cameras going up in different areas, particularly in Ardoyne. Yet there is also surveillance undertaken by the IRA in those same areas using cameras and whatnot; how will the PSNI approach political espionage done by members of an organization and surveillance and spying?

Hugh Orde: Well, CCTV surveillance is pretty overt and there to protect people. We know that it reduces crime. It displaces some crime, and we can fix that and it makes communities feel safer. It’s back to us being the same as everyone else and that’s what it’s used for. It’s as simple as that. In terms of other people, well if they break the law, we will deal with it. There are all sorts of complex rules about what is and what is not an offence, privacy and all that sort of stuff. We just deal with the police bit. I think the notion that we are so sophisticated that we are also social engineers - that is not my business. My business is to protect people.

Blanket: So in a sense, maybe, the RUC had the attitude that they were the front line of the war. And that impacted how they approached policing. And now the PSNI which you are looking at as not being part of the war but being part of the policing, is that why you might see a difference?

Hugh Orde: Nobody declared a war here. And there was never a war in legal terms. There was an extremely difficult policing environment and lots of people called it a war. But I think you are talking about a continuum. And what I am charged with policing is very different to what my predecessors were charged with. Famous last words, but police officers have not been murdered in the last two years as a result of the troubles. Although we almost lost one last weekend. So I think it is a very different thing. And where we are, I think, ahead of the game is we have responded very quickly. I am currently going to every single district with my deputy reviewing their performance at a local level just to get a real feel for what is going on. And what are they talking about? They are talking about volume crime, anti-social behaviour, kids on corners, DPPs. The threat is still there but they are far more focussed on ordinary policing, but with the knowledge that this place can move very quickly one way or the other. We haven’t dismissed the dissident republican threat. I think it is disorganised but they are still capable. But I think our guys have moved very quickly.

Blanket: And that would be in your eyes a mark of progress?

Hugh Orde: I think it is sensible that my guys are interested in reducing crime, interested in working in partnership. If you look at their frustrations, they are about structural things like how do we engage with health to deal with drugs, can we get some money for a joint initiative – that type of stuff. The biggest issue facing this place seems to me, policing. And some funds we are still denied access to, where we could really move.

Blanket: Has it moved on from the typewriter culture which you were amazed at when you came here?

Hugh Orde: Yes, it has. How we focus our resources is far more sophisticated. How we manage our money is far more sophisticated. This is not a bottomless pit. We are an expensive police service. But we have now got a grip on finances as well as outcome. I think our biggest success in two years is how we have empowered our district to get on with local policing without having to continually refer to the top. And we have supported them with a proper Crime Operations Group that deals with serious crime. I saw the Irish News this morning and the murder rate is up but so is the clear up rate. If you are a district commander wherever in Northern Ireland and a murder happens, you get a professional team who come in from the centre and deal with that for you in an organised way. If you look at the trend, violence generally by paramilitaries is dropping.

Blanket: Anything you want to add that didn’t get asked?

Hugh Orde: I am a nice person! Not really no. You are very welcome.

Blanket: Just one final point on the significance of the Provisional intervention in Ardoyne, you had earlier predicted a very peaceful summer. But without their intervention your hope for peace would have dissipated as quickly, some republicans would say, as Gerry Kelly’s principles.

Hugh Orde: You have your miserable hat on again. One and a half hours. One and a half hours of violence in the whole marching season. No baton rounds. A few people got wet. Some of my officers got injured but not many. In terms of was that successful? It wasn’t bad. It should not have happened. The worrying bit for me was the attack on the soldiers. It was incredible restraint. Huge level of violence. In terms of restraint shown by the soldiers, that was incredible.

Blanket: I think that’s true and I think Kelly’s intervention, in many ways was crucial despite what republicans may criticise him for. I think he did save nationalist lives on the day. I am just wondering about the depth of the conflict here in that the Paras, according to Thomas Harding of the Daily Telegraph, exercised constraint but they came very close to discharging their weapons. Which could have reproduced a Bloody Sunday in that maelstrom?

Hugh Orde: What Thomas Harding chooses to write is a matter for Thomas Harding. They did not is the point. We can always do ‘but they might have done,’ but they didn’t. If they didn’t fire weapons when that level of violence was displayed towards them. The ultimate irony is that they were put there to protect the nationalist community from people further up the road coming in. And they were attacked by the community they were trying to protect. There were interventions by community leaders and it did only last an hour and a half. And no one fired anything more than water. Now you tell me that is not a bad marching season.

Blanket: Are you happy enough with it overall?

Hugh Orde: I am never happy when there is violence. It is a big issue for next year around the law and the role of the parades commission which I think will move on. But overall, I think it was good.

Blanket: How would you prefer to see the marching season being policed?

Hugh Orde: I would like to see it as a community event where all sides celebrate each other's cultures. If you look at Notting Hill Carnival which I policed for twenty odd years from 1997 onwards. 1977 – violence, murders, stealing – desperate. Then it moved from its public violence and disorder, through time and organisational engagement with the committee organising it, to a public safety issue. It is a public safety issue now, because over a million people come into a square mile. We must have a vision that at some stage we are a mature enough society – again none of my business - where people can understand where other people are coming from and it is seen as a celebration rather than different sides rubbing each other’s noses in it.

Blanket: If vacancies come up in the future for the press secretary post will Robin Livingstone get the job?

Hugh Orde: I haven’t seen Robin for a bit.

Blanket: Thanks very much.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

31 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Blanket Interview: Hugh Orde
Carrie Twomey & Anthony McIntyre

The Convict and the Cop
Suzanne Breen

Thanks and Goodbye
Diarmuid Fogarty

In Response to: John Kerry, the Wrong Choice
Saerbhreathach Mac Toirdealbhaigh

The True Face of a One-Eyed Jack
Richard Wallace

Hurley's Twisted View
Lonnie Painter

Three More Votes for Kerry-Edwards
Kristi Kline

Your Silence Will Not Protect You
Joanne Dunlop

The Orange Order: Personification of anti-Catholic Bigotry
Father Sean Mc Manus

Double Standards and Curious Silences
Paul de Rooij

29 October 2004

Questioning Collusion
Mick Hall

Mary Kelly’s Protest ‘An Act of Passive Resistance’
Ruairi O Bradaigh

Death and the Pool
Anthony McIntyre

John Kerry: The Wrong Choice on November 2nd
Patrick Hurley

The Emerging Case for a Single State in Palestine
Todd May

The Clash Thesis: A Failing Ideology?
M. Shahid Alam



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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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