By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Allegations that two police officers manipulated a suicide victim’s body and shared photos and a video online are “harrowing and shocking”, PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne has said.
Mr Byrne told a meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board that the alleged actions “besmirched” the reputation of the PSNI.
The BBC Spotlight programme reported that the two officers have been under investigation for more than three years over the allegations which date back to 2017, and that one of them had been suspended on full pay.
The programme said it was part of a wider investigation being carried out by Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson into a range of possible offences including misconduct and harassment.
The family of the suicide victim told the programme that the allegations against the officers had worsened their trauma.
The victim’s sister told the programme that her brother’s genitalia had been exposed in one of the photographs.
In his introductory remarks at the Policing Board, Mr Byrne said: “We sit here absolutely shocked by some of the harrowing news today in terms of the behaviour of officers in another setting.
“The prospect that a public servant in whom we trust could even think about defiling somebody after they have died is both harrowing and shocking and besmirches the reputation of this service.
“I would condemn that. There is no way myself or the senior team could ever say this is something that reflects the values and standards of people that work to protect them.”
Sinn Féin board member Gerry Kelly said the allegations were difficult to listen to and very distressing for the family.
He said: “As I understand it, the young man took his own life, the family were put out of the room where his body was lying and photographs were taken, and as you mentioned yourself there was defiling of the body.
“It is not the first time we have had police officers using WhatsApp for this type of inappropriate activity. There were sectarian comments put on it.”
Mr Kelly raised concern that one of the officers had been suspended on full pay for several years.
Mr Byrne said: “I cannot imagine how harrowing this might be to the family.
“There is no place, not just for behaviour like this but for the added insult of sectarian comments which would almost make your stomach churn.”
Alliance Party board member John Blair said this was not the first time allegations of misconduct by police officers had been revealed.
He said: “It is a worrying trend that we are discussing alleged misconduct on what seems to be an increasingly regular basis and we need to deal with this trend.
“Can the chief constable commit the police senior executive team to participate in a meeting of this board dedicated to issues around misconduct processes, whistleblowing and the timeframes around all of these?”
Mr Byrne said: “I am more than happy to do that.
“The issue is clearly concerning today but it is not the first time it has been a matter that we have considered in the last 12 months.”
You can also freephone the national Bereavement Support Line run by the HSE and Irish Hospice Foundation at 1800 80 70 77 (Monday-Friday 10am-1pm), and the contact information for a range of mental health supports is available at mentalhealthireland.ie/get-support