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New chief constable takes over, vows ‘substantial’ changes

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The man whose personality, experience and independence is likely to decide whether police reforms in Northern Ireland are successful, and ultimately win the support of both the nationalist and unionist communities, began work this week.

Englishman Hugh Orde, aged 43, a marathon runner, says he’ll be setting up a 50-strong force of detectives to track down those responsible for recent loyalist and dissident republican murders, saying the present police clear-up rate is unacceptable.

For the last two years, he’s been in day-to-day control of the police inquiry into allegations of Special Branch collusion in the 1989 loyalist murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane.

In October or November, Orde will, as chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, formally receive from his former boss, Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the Finucane report that he helped to put together.

Some say this means he knows the complexities, personalities and dark corners of police culture inside the old RUC, which makes him an ideal candidate for leading it into a new era.

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Others argue that he has already been compromised by involvement in an inquiry, which the Finucane family, and many human rights groups, say is inadequate to root out what they say are the misdeeds of the old Special Branch.

Whichever is right, Orde has been appointed, has brought his wife and young family to Belfast, and is young enough to be in for a long haul.

Orde began his tenure with some refreshing frankness in his condemnation of the outdated technology used by PSNI. One senses that he has similar views about some of the old habits of the force.

He says he doesn’t expect to be universally popular. That’s understandable, bearing in mind the trenchant criticism of Special Branch expected from this autumn’s report into the Finucane killing.

With more than 10 percent of its personnel on sick leave, perhaps as much the result of low morale as of injuries or genuine illness, with street violence endemic, and with one community only partially happy with the new force, Orde faces huge challenges.

His Northern Ireland-born predecessor, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, was the ultimate smooth-talking PR man. Orde is brisk, fast-talking, with a slightly cynical edge and a sharp sense of humor.

Orde was with the London Metropolitan Police Force for 26 years. His career has included high-profile activities such as the inquiry into the killing of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, a victim of race hate.

Northern Ireland has a shortage of experienced detectives, he says. Many have taken early buyouts and can be found playing golf or buying holiday homes in Spain. Orde says the force “has had the guts ripped out of it in terms of qualified investigators.”

He accepts that he’s going to have problems, because the structural changes he has to get through will be taking place at a time of unusually low morale.

“Yes, there is a crisis to some extent, I guess,” he said. “My experience from the Stephen Lawrence case is that anything that criticizes the service you care about has an impact. It’s bound to. The question is what you do about it. Do you go defensive? Or do you engage with it? Do you learn from it and move forward from it? That’s my plan.”

On sectarian murder, he said: “The last three Catholics to have been shot were simply shot because they happened to be Catholic or suspected of being Catholic by a gang of murderers. That’s what they are: a gang of serial killers.

“We need to target the people who we think are doing the killings. If we can’t take them out for the killings, we’ll take them out for something else. There are a number of major players who have no visible means of support, who seem to go on some very nice holidays and who seem to have a terrifying grip.”

Among the most high-profile recent murders was the drive-by shooting of Gerard Lawlor, 19, by the UDA in North Belfast in July. Earlier this year, a Catholic mailman Daniel McColgan, 20, was gunned down by a UDA gang as he started work in a staunchly loyalist estate in County Antrim.

In July last year, 18-year-old Gavin Brett was murdered by the same organization as he chatted with friends close to his home at Glengormley, Co. Antrim.

Dissident republicans have also been active, with the Real IRA behind the bomb attack on a Derry British Army base that killed 51-year-old building worker David Caldwell.

No one has been charged in these murders.

Orde accepts he’s taking over the job at a time when dissident loyalists and republicans pose a huge threat.

“The reality is it is high, if you look at the number of murders that have been committed over the last eight months as a starting point and the number of murder investigations we have got running at the minute, which are not hugely successful, I have to say,” he admitted.

As he started one of the toughest policing jobs in Europe, Orde also confirmed:

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