Northern Ireland police chief resigns following data breach

Court decision on disciplinary action over two officers preceded Simon Byrne’s resignation, with earlier mistaken publication of staff’s personal data adding pressure 

The chief constable of Northern Ireland has resigned following rising pressure from politicians, officers and staff caused partly by the accidental publication of personal data on more than 10,000 personnel on 8 August. 

Simon Byrne, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), resigned a few days after the High Court in Belfast ruled that two junior PSNI officers were unlawfully disciplined in 2021 for political reasons.

However, his position had already been weakened by the data breach, which included surnames and initials, work locations and type of duty. Although it did not include home addresses and phone numbers, many PSNI officers prefer not to publicise their jobs given ongoing threats of death and injury from dissident republicans. 

“The last few days have been very difficult for all concerned,” said Byrne in a statement published by the Northern Ireland Policing Board. “Regardless of the rights and wrongs, it is now time for someone new to lead this proud and resolute organisation.” 

Byrne’s resignation came shortly before Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris MP provided details of the August data breach to Parliament. He said that the data was accidentally released through publication of a spreadsheet which contained a hidden table with the personal data and was online for about three hours.  

“This data breach is deeply concerning and significant,” said Heaton-Harris. “Many PSNI officers and staff have raised concerns about themselves and their family, and they have my support and understanding as they go about their important work keeping communities safe in these worrying and most testing circumstances.” 

He added that as of 30 August, 3,954 self-referrals had been made to the PSNI’s emergency threat management group, part of the welfare and support services available to officers. The government has also provided specialist support and expertise to the force. 

By the end of August, PSNI had made two arrests connected to the data breach, one on suspicion of collection of information likely to be useful to terrorists and another under the Terrorism Act. On 1 September the force made a statement about a poster that appeared in Dungiven claiming to provide details of three serving officers, saying that the information was incorrect.  

PublicTechnology staff

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