'MI5 did not influence Orde': Police Ombudsman Report

Published Date: 09.07.2003

The Police Ombudsman has released details of her investigation into  complaints against the Chief Constable of the PSNI which were  made by Ex Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Lowry, formerly Regional Intelligence Advisor, Belfast. Mr Lowry was the senior Special Branch officer working on the investigation of the break-in at Castlereagh Police Station which occurred in March 2002  

The Northern Ireland Policing Board asked the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland to investigate the complaints made by Mr Lowry. The Policing Board conducted preliminary enquiries into similar complaints by Mr Lowry against the Acting Deputy Chief Constable, Mr Alan McQuillan, but did not refer those to the Police Ombudsman

Before the Police Ombudsman's investigation started there had been concerns about "high quality" leaks of information regarding the Castlereagh investigation and the Stormont investigation. One senior officer is quoted as saying such information "could only have come from police sources" while another believed the leaks were timed to coincide with political events. It is not known who was responsible for those leaks. 

Mr Lowry was removed from his post amid concerns he had divulged some sensitive intelligence information to a journalist. A PSNI investigation into the matter was established. 

The Police Ombudsman's investigating team interviewed a number of people, including senior members of MI5 and the PSNI.  It also examined other information, including documentation and entries in individuals' journals. It received full co-operation from all those involved. 

It did not investigate any leaks. They did not form part of the complaint by Mr Lowry.


1. Mr Lowry alleged that the Chief Constable had acted unfairly and politically in removing him from his role as Regional Intelligence Advisor, Belfast, purely on the instructions of the Security Service.

The Police Ombudsman found that this complaint was not substantiated.

"It has been established that the first discussion that the Chief Constable had with the Security Service regarding Mr Lowry was at 7.15 pm on Thursday November 14, and that that contact was instigated by the Chief Constable.

By that time a decision had already been made to remove Mr Lowry from his post and that an investigation should take place.  Several persons had already been informed of this and given instructions in relation to the decision.  All evidence collected supports these facts and no evidence contradicts it. "

2. Mr Lowry complained that the Chief Constable instructed officers to escort him to his office in a manner which amounted to unlawful detention.

This complaint was not substantiated.

"The investigation has shown that the Acting Deputy Chief Constable was responsible for the procedure under which Mr Lowry was allowed to clear his office of his personal possessions. The procedure adopted represented normal procedure.  The Acting Deputy Chief Constable gave clear instructions that the issue was to be treated 'with sensitivity and due regard for dignity'. Mr Lowry states that the officers involved 'were very sensitive to my feelings.'

Mr Lowry did not travel in a police vehicle to his office, as he states, but rather in the Investigating Officer's personal vehicle.  He indicated no objection to this.

The Chief Constable therefore issued no such instruction as alleged by the complainant.  There is no evidence that Mr. Lowry was taken in the vehicle against his will and all evidence points to the contrary." 

3. Mr Lowry alleged that the Chief Constable unfairly instigated a disciplinary process when he knew Mr. Lowry had already been admonished.

The Police Ombudsman found that this complaint was not substantiated.

"The Police Ombudsman is satisfied that the Chief Constable did not know Mr Lowry had been subject to a disciplinary process on Wednesday November 13.  Moreover the Police Ombudsman is not satisfied that an 'admonishment' or other disciplinary process actually took place."

·         At a meeting at 4.00pm on 14 November 2002 the Chief Constable had asked who could be responsible for the leak; he had asked whether any investigation had been decided on, and was told this was not the case; the Chief Constable asked also whether 'there was anything else I should know.' The Head of Special Branch, who had been present at the meeting at which Mr Lowry was said to have been admonished, said that Special Branch do not leak and that the ACC Crime was conducting a damage assessment. He did not mention Mr Lowry.

·         The Police Ombudsman's Report concludes that no one made any record of the admonishment of Wednesday 13 November, which is described by Mr Lowry, ACC Albiston and the Head of Special Branch. 

·         It describes as 'surprising' the fact that when Mr Lowry was informed he was to be the subject of formal disciplinary proceedings over the controversial meeting, he did not state that he had already been admonished for the issue.

·         Nor did his solicitor. The potential implications of the 'double jeopardy' rule would have been highly relevant to Mr Lowry's case and would have been an issue which would have the potential to undermine any further disciplinary action, yet the solicitor did not raise the issue of any previous action. Moreover the solicitor threatened legal action unless an outsider was brought in to conduct the investigation. 

·         The Head of Special Branch was present when Mr Lowry was served notice of the disciplinary proceedings: his role was to act in the capacity as  Welfare Officer to look after his best interests. He did not state that Mr Lowry had already been disciplined

·         The Head of Special Branch maintained his silence throughout the process which followed.  At no stage did he raise any objection to the investigation on the basis that the matter had already been dealt with.

·         Nobody told the Chief Constable, the Acting Deputy Chief Constable, Internal Investigation Branch staff or the two ACCs responsible for the internal investigation that Mr Lowry had already been disciplined.

In view of the concerns raised about what had been said in the BBC meeting an investigation was entirely appropriate.  The investigation would have established what evidence existed in relation to the matter and a decision could then have been taken as to any appropriate action.

All witness evidence supports the fact that the Chief Constable had no knowledge of the alleged comments by Mr Lowry to the BBC until 6.00pm on Thursday 14 November 2002 and that he was not informed that evening, or at any stage prior to Mr Lowry’s retirement that  any disciplinary action had been taken against Mr Lowry. 

4. Mr Lowry's final two complaints related to private correspondence between the Chief Constable and the Chairman of the Policing Board.  His understanding of the wording of those letters was wrong and therefore the complaint is not substantiated


The Police Ombudsman has now forwarded her 42-page report on the investigation, which was led by her Executive Director David Wood, to the Secretary of State, the Policing Board and the Chief Constable as required by the Police (NI) Act 1998.

Chronology of Events

The investigation mainly focuses on a period between Tuesday November 12 when Mr Lowry gave a briefing to journalists which was alleged to involve inappropriate and unauthorized disclosures, and the sequence of events which led to his decision on Monday, November 18 to retire. Prior to the meeting on 12 November 2002 two other relevant meetings occurred.

Friday, November 8 2002 and Monday 11 November 2002

Mr Lowry met a senior (BBC) journalist who said he had sensitive details about the Stormont operation, which he planned to broadcast.  Mr Lowry believed the information to be 'of some concern'. He accepts that during the meeting he inadvertently gave the journalist sensitive information.  Mr Lowry reported back to his superior officer. After a second meeting on Monday 11 November 2002 the journalist refused to give an undertaking that he would not use the material he had, but offered the opportunity of a further meeting

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Mr Lowry and the PSNI Director of Media Services met senior (BBC) journalists in an attempt to prevent the broadcast of sensitive material. This meeting was authorized by the PSNI.  Mr Lowry acknowledged that during the meeting he discussed further sensitive matters which "should not have been mentioned". Later that evening, the Director of Media Services briefed the Assistant Chief Constable (Crime) because he was very concerned about what Mr Lowry had told journalists.

That evening the journalist broadcast an item on the news programme, which caused considerable concern among officers involved in the investigation of the Castlereagh raid.

Wednesday November 13, 2002

Mr Lowry was called to a meeting with ACC Crime, and the Head of Special Branch to discuss what had taken place at the BBC meeting.  Mr Lowry claims that he was "paraded before the ACC" who said that, "the Chief had felt I said too much" and "had been too open and disclosed Special Branch methodology".  Mr Lowry said he considered himself to have been "admonished" on the direct instructions of the Chief Constable. 
No written record was made anywhere of the admonishment.  The ACC denied quoting the Chief Constable during the meeting.   The ACC and the Head of Special Branch noted the meeting in their journals but did not indicate that an "admonishment" or any disciplinary action had been taken. The ACC, the Head of Special Branch and Mr Lowry all stated in evidence that Mr Lowry had been "admonished." 

Thursday, November 14 2002.

Afternoon: In one of their ongoing conversations regarding leaks, MI5 recommended to the Chief Constable that there should be an investigation into the leaks of information, which led to the unwelcome broadcast.  The Police Ombudsman has established that this conversation related to the issue of leaks generally and that no discussion took place regarding any individual.  Mr Lowry's name was not mentioned.

4.OOPM: A meeting was held to discuss the BBC Broadcast and PSNI leaks in general.  The Chief Constable, the Acting Deputy Chief Constable, the Head of Special Branch, the Director of Media Services and the Senior Investigating Officer for the Castlereagh investigation were all present. The Head of Special Branch did not tell the Chief Constable in this meeting that Mr Lowry had been disciplined in relation to this and told the Chief Constable that Special Branch did not leak. He also told the Chief Constable that ACC Crime was conducting a damage assessment.

6.OOPM: The PSNI Director of Media Services told the Chief Constable of his concerns about what Mr Lowry had said at the meeting with the BBC on Tuesday. He says it was clear that this was the first the Chief Constable knew of the matter.

6.1OPM: The Chief Constable phoned ACC Crime and told him that Mr Lowry would have to be transferred from his post while an investigation was carried out.  The ACC told Police Ombudsman Investigators that he told the Chief Constable he had already dealt with the matter.  He did not, however, tell the Chief Constable that any disciplinary action had been taken.

Then the Chief Constable established that the Acting Deputy Chief Constable did not know about the concern raised regarding the BBC press briefing. The Director of Media Services then told the Acting Deputy Chief Constable what had happened. He said the matter should be investigated.  He also told Police Ombudsman Investigators that he was "stunned and amazed that all this had been concealed from me by Senior Special Branch officers." 

The Chief Constable was totally unaware that disciplinary action had been taken against Mr Lowry and instructed the Acting Deputy Chief Constable to have the matter investigated.

6.30PM onwards - telephone calls were made arranging for an investigation into Mr Lowry's conduct. Several officers were involved at this stage.

7:15PM:  The Chief Constable paged a senior member of MI5 and requested that he call him back. This he did over a mobile telephone at 7.15 pm. He had a short conversation in which the Chief Constable told him that the Met. would be investigating leaks generally and Mr Lowry was to be moved to other duties. This was the first contact between the Chief Constable and Security Service in relation to Mr Lowry. It was important that the Chief Constable inform MI5 of Mr Lowry's removal from his post given the frequent working contact between Mr Lowry and MI5.

Friday November 15 2002
Mr Lowry was transferred from his job in Special Branch and a disciplinary investigation was started.  He was taken to his office in an ACC's personal vehicle and given the opportunity to clear it of personal possessions. 

15 -17 November 2002

Mr Lowry said that over the weekend which followed he received further phone calls from "friends" claiming that at 7.30 pm on Thursday November 14, the Chief Constable had received a phone call from "people in London" which had left him agitated.  Mr Lowry said his friends claimed that the Chief Constable then phoned ACC (Crime) saying that Lowry "had to go" because "they", by which he assumed the callers meant the Security Service, would not work with him.  Mr Lowry did not identify those "friends." Conversations took place between Mr Lowry and his solicitor and the PSNI in relation to the terms of his retirement

Monday November 18 2002

Mr Lowry says that the manner in which the Chief Constable had dealt with the matter had left him feeling humiliated, degraded, embarrassed and betrayed.  He said he believed "outside parties" had influenced the Chief Constable's decision. He tendered his resignation and the PSNI agreed that he would retire with his full severance payment, his full pension and a Discharge Certificate of Exemplary Service.  He could not be prevented from retiring as he had at that point an exemplary service record with the PSNI.


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