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5 September 2002 Edition

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Orde's inauspicious start

By Fern Lane

The new chief constable of the RUC, Hugh Orde, took up his post on Monday, vowing to stay out of politics. His very first act as chief constable, however, was entirely political.

Faced with having to make up ground with unionism after several of its senior politicians openly criticised his appointment and after his role in the Stevens investigation, Orde has agreed to keep the RUC Reserve in place. David Trimble and many of his colleagues have recently engaged in determined lobbying for its retention. Orde's decision also runs counter to the Patten report, which recommended the disbandment of the discredited force.

"We need more detectives," he told The Guardian. "Patten did not foresee the amount of terrorism that would continue in 'peacetime' policing and got rid of a disproportionate number, basically ripping the guts out of the CID.

"We've lost some very competent, experienced officers, but there is a national shortage of detectives, which means we've got to think differently about recruiting and training, and how we provide support for CID, which could mean putting pressure on other units, so it's difficult.

"Paramilitaries, serial killers are well organised so we need to be better organised, we need to be smarter than they are. If they think they can sit back and relax in their ill-gotten gains - be it drug trafficking, be it terrorism - then we need to take them out."

When Orde's appointment was announced in June, Sammy Wilson and Fred Cobain, both members of the Policing Board, denounced him as not "suitably qualified" and pointedly refused to attend the press conference held to welcome him. John Taylor declared that the "political" appointment would "not be well received across Northern Ireland".

However, in maintaining the RUC Reserve, Orde has now earned himself valuable approval from the UUP. Speaking from the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, Trimble said that he was "pleased that Mr Orde recognises the importance of the Police Reserve and I am glad that he is willing to commit himself to maintaining the reserve as a crucial component of local law enforcement".

Trimble will no doubt also be pleased at Orde's quaintly colonial belief that he can simply import, wholesale, policing practices and attitudes from Britain and apply them to the situation in the Six Counties. All paramilitaries, he claimed, are no different from gangsters who operate in London.

"Our job is to identify and arrest those responsible for the extremes of violence," he told the Daily Telegraph. "They are destroying the community, they are no different to the illegal Jamaicans killing members of the black community in London.

"It has all the indicators of any community operating on the margins of society - no different to Peckham, New Cross or Brixton. The different element here is the extreme levels of violence. I'm used to policing London, so I'm used to the politics and being criticised."

That he is used to being criticised is certainly true. He was, of course, a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police when the force was labelled by Sir William McPhearson as "institutionally racist" in the report into its handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Indeed, his 26-year career with the Met coincided with many cases, some of which have subsequently become high-profile, in which it was exposed as at the very least racist and incompetent.

Orde's decision to retain the RUC Reserve was criticised by Sinn Féin's policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly. "We have the Patten report in that the full-time reserve were to go and Hugh Orde is obviously running against that. He should be bound by what was agreed by all the parties in the Good Friday Agreement and he should not move off that," he said.

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