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PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne Alamy Stock Photo
Data Breach

PSNI chief confident information released in data breach is in hands of dissident republicans

A Sinn Féin MLA today said dissident republicans published redacted information from the data breach on the wall of a library in Belfast.

LAST UPDATE | 14 Aug 2023

PSNI CHIEF CONSTABLE Simon Byrne has said he is confident that information mistakenly released in a major data breach last week is in the hands of dissident republicans.

Last week, the PSNI revealed a document had mistakenly been shared online which included the names of about 10,000 officers and staff.

Details released include the surname and first initial of every employee, their rank or grade, where they are based and the unit they work in.

Speaking to reporters this evening, Byrne said it was a “reasonable assumption” that dissident republicans have the workforce data.

“We are obviously investigating where we think this leak went but we’ve said from last week there was an assumption that this would get into the wrong hands, and we’re now just confirming that.”

He said the PSNI “will continue to adapt our posture and our tactics as the information changes”.

Byrne said measures had been put in place to advise all members of the workforce, but the PSNI had not “caught up” with 45 members at the start of today.

He said the data did not contain information on retired colleagues.

Byrne said the PSNI is “working around the clock” to assess the risk to staff due to dissident republicans obtaining workforce data.

“We are now confident that the workforce dataset is in the hands of dissident Republicans and it is therefore a planning assumption that they will use this list to generate fear and uncertainty as well as intimidating or targeting officers and staff.”

He paid tribute to officers and staff for demonstrating “tremendous resolve and resilience” since the data leak.

Byrne said their safety and welfare remains his “top priority”

“Weekend events have shown their determination to stick to our values and continue to serve the public with commitment and professionalism. We have been strongly supported by a range of cyber specialists from across the policing system in dealing with this unprecedented incident.

“We have measures in place to reassure and advise our workforce of what this risk means for them. We will continue to liaise with the policing board and the UK Government as well as other partners as we develop our response to this matter.”

Redacted information

Byrne’s comments this evening come after dissident republicans published redacted information from the data breach on the wall of a library in Belfast to prove they are in possession of the sensitive material, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has said.

Kelly, a Policing Board member, said the document which was posted overnight close to the Sinn Féin office on the Falls Road, included information about a “substantial number” of police officers and staff, although their names had been removed.

He explained that he had been contacted by a party member this morning who had arrived at the office.

He said: “He noticed that on the side of the library there was a number of documents pasted up.

“There was a photograph of myself and then there was a statement saying in large writing: ‘Gerry, we know who your mates are.’

“Under that there was what appeared to be, and what turned out to be, a section of the leaked documents that were put out.

“It did not have the names of the police officers involved, but it had everything else.

“It wasn’t the whole 10,000 (names), but it was a substantial number.”

Kelly added: “I look upon this as a threat by dissidents to me and I will not be intimidated.

“More serious is that this is the dissidents, or whoever is involved, putting out that their claim that they have access to the leaked documents, they are putting out a verification on that.

“I think that is their main intention.”

Asked why he believes dissident republicans are responsible, Kelly said: “To have the names of the officers, if you were caught putting such information up then you would be under criminal charge immediately.

“One of the reasons that makes me believe it is dissidents is precisely that.

“They were clever enough to remove and to put up what they believe would not be illegal.”

gerry kelly Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly. Alamy. Alamy.

Last week, Chief Constable Byrne said he was aware of claims that dissident republicans, who are opposed to the peace process in Northern Ireland, are in possession of information from the breach, but stressed at the time that the claim had not been verified.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd confirmed that an investigation has begun into the posting of the redacted information in Belfast.

He said: “We are aware that some redacted information from the Tuesday, 8 August data breach has allegedly been posted on a wall in west Belfast today, Monday, 14 August.

“We have commenced an investigation into this matter.

“From the outset we have been planning for this potential development and that plan is now being put into place.”

Todd continued: “We recognise the impact this may have on our officers, staff and their families and additional security and reassurance patrols have already been implemented across Northern Ireland as part of our organisational response.

“The safety and welfare of our officers and staff remains our priority and we have reminded them of their personal safety and security both on and off duty.”

Concern for safety

Hundreds of officers have expressed concern for their safety in Northern Ireland, where police are under threat from terrorists – with the current level of threat assessed as severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

Speaking this evening, Byrne said officers and staff are able to contact the organisation through an online service where they will be triaged based on a risk assessment.

“We’re also giving online advice and in terms of the worry and anxiety, a service will be starting tomorrow with our operational occupational health and welfare colleagues to support people who are suffering anxiety and stress.

“You will recognise this as a fast paced and developing incident and as we know more, we will adapt our advice and indeed our support in relation to what people need to get through this incident.”

The Police Federation of Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file PSNI officers, that by this afternoon 2,905 officers had expressed an interest in the event of legal action following the major data breach.

While no legal action has yet commenced, it is thought officers and staff whose names and places of work were revealed could be in line for compensation.

The PSNI is already facing significant budget pressures and any settlements would be expected to run into tens of millions of pounds.

Asked this evening about financial supports for the safety of civilian staff, Chief Constable Simon Byrne said a £500 allowance had been under review for some time but “was based on a previous set of circumstances”.

“All I can say at the moment is that we are working actively with the UK Government and have a green light for support if we need to take new measures to protect people and keep officers, staff and their families safe.”

Asked if this would involve additional finances, he said: “I think if we need to look at finances for protecting our workforce and staff, I’m confident the UK Government is standing by for the ask.”

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