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6 June 2002 Edition

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Hugh Orde


We will have to wait and see whether the belief that Orde's report will "pull no punches" and that it will be "Patten with attitude" is justified. Just don't hold your breath
The fact that neither nationalists nor unionists have welcomed the appointment of Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Hugh Orde as the new Chief Constable of the RUC will no doubt lead the British government to tell themselves that because nobody likes it, it must be right.

When Orde's appointment was announced last Wednesday afternoon, Sammy Wilson and Fred Cobain, both members of the Policing Board, were conspicuously absent from the press conference held to welcome the new Chief Constable. Instead, they went public to register their opposition, declaring that Orde was not "suitably qualified" and that HM Inspector of Constabulary, Dan Compton, had not approved his appointment. John Taylor also weighed in, opining that the "political" appointment would "not be well received across Northern Ireland".

This prompted Crompton to intervene, refuting the allegations made by Wilson and Cobain and endorsing the Police Board's choice of candidate. He complained Wilson and Cobain had breached the unspoken code of confidentiality regarding Policing Board discussions. "It is unfortunate that this widespread accepted practice has been breached," he said. "It offends the principles of human rights."

Certainly on the face of it, Orde seemed an unlikely candidate, and particularly so far as unionism is concerned. He is an outsider - always a problem for the deeply insular and paranoid UUP and DUP - he has no connections, so far as we know, with the Orange Order, and has not worked his way up through the ranks of the RUC, making friends with unionist politicians along the way.

But far more important than any of that - for the nationalist community - is Orde's current occupation and his history with the Metropolitan Police force. He is currently in charge of the Stevens inquiry into collusion and into the workings of Special Branch and will be making a significant contribution to Stevens' final report, which is due to be published shortly before he takes up his appointment in September.

The incestuous nature of police investigations, with one force supposedly investigating the wrongdoings of another, has always been a deeply unsatisfactory method of crime detection. But the fact that Orde has been appointed to lead the very officers he has been - and still is - investigating, only exacerbates the sense of professional protectionism. Moreover, it does not really inspire much confidence that those who ordered the deaths of Pat Finucane and others will ever be brought before their accusers.

Orde has already stated publicly that he does not believe that Pat Finucane's killer will ever be caught; not a good start, given that he knows perfectly well who the gunman was and when the question has always been one of evidence. In any case, the primary object of the exercise was surely meant to be to expose those who facilitated him and his colleagues, and Orde does not appear to have succeeded in that respect.

So we will have to wait and see whether the knowledge that Orde has to command the loyalty of those under his control will have a bearing on his report. We will have to wait and see whether the belief that his report will "pull no punches" and that it will be "Patten with attitude" is justified. Just don't hold your breath.

As far as his career history is concerned, the great advantage of being an outsider is that one can seem to lack the baggage of others; for example, Orde is not associated with the goings-on at Castlereagh Interrogation Centre as his predecessor was. But he is, nevertheless, inextricably linked to the activities of the Metropolitan Police, with which he served for 25 years, and its own record is poor enough to trouble anyone concerned with human rights.

Whilst Orde was a serving officer, the force was labelled by Sir William McPhearson as "institutionally racist" in the report into its handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Thanks to the Met's ineptitude and racism, Stephen Lawrence's family will never see their son's killers come to trial.

The force has also been subjected to widespread criticism for its handling of other killings, particularly the cases of Michael Menson and Ricki Reel. Both men were killed in racially motivated attacks. In both cases, the Met insisted it was suicide and refused to investigate further. Although it has now been forced to acknowledge that Menson was murdered, the force still refuses to investigate the death of Ricki Reel as a murder.

Orde's previous employer is also implicated in the ongoing scandal of deaths in police custody. In the past 30 years, around one thousand people have died in police custody in England and Wales, yet only one officer has ever been convicted of a crime. Between April 1998 and April 1999 alone, 65 people lost their lives whilst in the custody of the police. Of those thousand people, the vast majority came from the black and Asian communities and of the remainder, the majority were Irish.

During Orde's time with the Met, the force killed 47-year-old Irishman Richard O'Brien when some of its officers arrested him, allegedly for being drunk and disorderly. He was suffocated as he lay pinned down in the back of the police van. Joy Gardiner, 40, was suffocated to death in 1996 after ten police officers broke into her flat and 'restrained' her. They also killed Roger Sylvester, a 30-year-old black man with mental health problems, who died, again after being restrained, during a domestic incident January 1999. The Met responded by smearing Sylvester's character to the media.

One could be forgiven, then, for not having a great deal of faith in the new Chief Constable's willingness or ability to deal with sectarianism, given his previous force's dismal record.

The Met was also responsible for the murder of Harry Stanley as he walked along Holloway Road carrying a chair leg in a plastic bag. The police had received a call from pub, claiming that Stanley (who had gone into the pub for a lemonade) had an Irish accent and was carrying a gun. The Met responded by sending an armed unit to the area and shooting the Scotsman twice, once through the head. They then left his body where it lay for four hours and did not inform Stanley's wife until the following day. No police officer has ever been disciplined, let alone charged, in connection with the killing.

The force's armed unit, SO19, was also responsible for the execution of unarmed IRA Volunteer Diarmuid O'Neill in a flat in Hammersmith in 1996. The Met's press office responded by lying to the media, saying that the force had been obliged to engage in a gun-battle with the occupants of the flat before Diarmuid was shot six times. At the inquest, one of SO19's officers insisted that the force had done the right thing in killing him.

Orde's motives in applying for the post are, of course, not in the public domain. Aside from his comment that it was the "ultimate challenge"; the new Chief Constable has not been particularly forthcoming about what attracted him to what must be one of the most horrible policing jobs in the world (although £130,000 a year helps).

We might try to persuade ourselves that Orde, having investigated the force, has been dismayed by what he has seen and believes he can confront the sectarianism, laziness and corruption of the force head on, that he can deal adequately with Omagh, the Castlereagh 'break-in', the marching season, Special Branch, etc. Or maybe not.

Because, in the end, Orde's appointment is unlikely to make any significant difference to the experience of nationalists in their everyday encounters with members of the RUC/PSNI. Human rights abusers will continue to occupy their posts unpunished, nationalists will still have to suffer having plastic bullets recklessly fired at them and will still have to suffer as their homes come under loyalist attack under the noses of the police. Nothing any senior police officer has said, including Orde, suggests an inclination to root out offenders within the RUC.

And as Gerry Kelly pointed out when asked about Orde's appointment, a change of face is really not the issue. Accountability is, and the legislation as it stands at present will not convince the nationalist community to back either the 'new' police force or its Chief Constable.

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