The report was drawn up Dan Crompton, a former chief constable in the British Midlands and a recently retired member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It was commissioned by the Board after the Police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, reported Special Branch mistakes before the Omagh bombing, claiming the mishandling of warnings from at least two informers before the atrocity, and incompetence in the subsequent police investigation.
Her report earlier this year reserved its sharpest criticism for the anti-paramilitary Special Branch, leading to the Compton Report, which was handed to the board this week.
A three-page press release was given to reporters with the main report remaining under wraps. It will, thus, be difficult for the public and press to establish how much of the report is implemented.
The report proposes that the Special Branch be renamed Intelligence Branch and that a new set of structures be set down on how the department shares information with other police divisions, including the Criminal Investigation Department. This would mean that CID officers are involved at a far earlier stage in Special Branch work and that regional officers would also be given confidential information.
The Omagh report revealed that the Special Branch tended not to share information received from informers with colleagues. The case of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane showed that informer information was sometimes not shared with investigating police officers.
Compton is recommending the implementation of the British National Criminal Intelligence Service model at all levels within the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This, he said, should be undertaken “as a priority and, ideally, be supported by a dedicated implementation plan.” However, in Britain, this model is not adopted by anti-terrorist or anti-paramilitary police departments.
Compton also highlighted the fact that previous Inspectorate recommendations on the Special Branch were not implemented, which he said “had contributed to the continuation of operational difficulties.”
Speaking after the report was presented, the ombudsman said the report reinforced the findings of her report on the Omagh bombing. “I am pleased to see those recommendations and I think they can give us all a better policing service,” she said.
The report also recommends all intelligence disseminating from the new Intelligence Branch should be by way of action sheets, including a written evaluation on the reliability of the information source. The report addresses the length of service individual officers should spend working in the Intelligence Branch. The report contains criticisms of past failures to properly analyze and act upon information available.
It recommends a new overseeing and coordinating structure for the Intelligence Branch. It also said there should be better training and information technology sharing.
The chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Hugh Orde, said the report would help to address public concerns, and he conceded that even his own senior officers had concerns about the “force within a force” mentality of the old Special Branch.
“My job is to make sure all departments work seamlessly to deliver an effective service in protecting the community,” he said. “This report helps take us in that direction and that is why I welcome it”, he said.
The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, said the report shows that “light is being shone on the darkest corners of policing.” He said it also proved that Special Branch was being conclusively dealt with by the Policing Board.
Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Fred Cobain, meanwhile, said it was “a timely report” that had identified weaknesses in the system, while the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said those who had wanted the dismantling of Special Branch would be disappointed.
“I believe that the recommendations we have ensure that, first of all, we will have an intelligence branch gathering information; its size will not be diminished nor will its role,” Wilson said.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the report failed to address one of its main concerns. “They still have the power to decide when to pass the information on,” he said. “One of the core issues to be dealt with if we are to achieve a new beginning to policing is the continuing control by Special Branch and MI5 of all aspects of policing in this state.
“The result of this has been collusion, shoot-to-kill and a manipulation of loyalist death squads. The litmus test is the ending of political and military manipulation of policing and the removal of the Special Branch as a force within a force.”
Meanwhile tensions continue within loyalism as ever-more volatile and dangerous rivalries emerge between different factions, involved in turf wars for rackets and drug-running operations. Leading loyalist John White has dismissed a call for UDA members in the staunchly loyalist Shankill Road to distance themselves from convicted paramilitary Johnny Adair.
The UDA is blaming Adair’s C Company in the lower Shankill for a series of eight attacks on loyalist families. In a coded message, the UDA warned Adair and former UDP spokesman White there should be no further attacks. The move by the UDA leadership is regarded as an attempt to further isolate Adair.