Jon Boutcher ‘very honoured’ to take up PSNI chief constable role

Former Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher has said he is “very honoured” to be selected to lead the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

His appointment was approved by Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris following interviews of the final two candidates on Monday.

Assistant chief constable Bobby Singleton was also shortlisted for the job vacated by Simon Byrne, who resigned in September after a string of controversies.

Northern Ireland Chief Constable Interviews
Assistant chief constable Bobby Singleton (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Boutcher, who has 35 years’ experience in policing, was previously appointed as the interim head of the service pending the outcome of the interviews for the permanent £220,000-a-year post.

The Policing Board interviewed the two shortlisted candidates at the board’s headquarters in Belfast, before a multi-stage deliberation and selection process.

In normal circumstances, when a devolved government is in place in Northern Ireland, the board’s selection would be sent to Stormont’s justice minister for final approval.

With no justice minister in place due to the ongoing powersharing impasse, Mr Heaton-Harris had responsibility for signing off on the appointment. He had no influence on the choice but had to be satisfied that the process was fair and done in accordance with rules and guidelines.

The interview panel was made up of Policing Board chairwoman Deirdre Toner, independent board member Mukesh Sharma and three political members of the oversight body: Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly, the DUP’s Joanne Bunting and Nuala McAllister from the Alliance Party.

Mr Boutcher previously applied to become PSNI chief constable in 2019, but lost out to Mr Byrne.

He was until recently leading Operation Kenova, which has been investigating the activities of “Stakeknife”, the Army’s top agent in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

The new PSNI chief faces a challenging in-tray, including a budget crisis, dealing with the fall out following a significant data breach in which the personal details of all officers and staff were mistakenly published online, and a critical High Court ruling that said two junior officers had been unlawfully disciplined for their actions at a Troubles commemoration event.

In a statement, Mr Boutcher said: “This position carries great responsibility and is a huge privilege. I look forward to leading the dedicated officers of this exceptional organisation.

“There is much to do and I am fully committed to delivering an outstanding policing service to address the issues which matter most to our communities.

“The officers and staff of the Police Service do an extraordinary job and will have my full support.”

Speaking about the appointment, Board chair Deirdre Toner said: “I am pleased to confirm that Jon Boutcher is the successful candidate from this appointment competition.

“Jon takes on the leadership role for one of the most important public sector services in Northern Ireland.

“He is clearly committed to the challenges ahead, to tackling crime and criminality and to providing a policing service that is community based and focused on delivery to the public.

“There are also significant pieces of work to be progressed to manage and mitigate the serious financial pressures currently facing policing, and deal with confidence and other issues arising from recent events.”

The Policing Board said the position carries extensive responsibilities and the appointment had a “rigorous selection process”.

The chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Liam Kelly, urged Mr Boutcher to tackle “chronic and deep-rooted” issues in the service as he congratulated the new chief constable.

Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill said she was wishing Mr Boutcher well on his appointment.

In a social media post, she wrote: “Huge job of work ahead to rebuild trust and confidence in the police with public, and PSNI officers.

“Focus must be on delivering an efficient and effective policing service that works and is representative of everyone in society.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson congratulated the new chief constable on his selection.

In a statement, Sir Jeffrey said: “The Democratic Unionist Party will be engaging with the new chief constable to hear his plans to restore confidence and improve relations with the unionist community.

“This appointment must not be a false dawn. It should be a catalyst for delivering a Police Service that treats every tradition and community with a fair hand and avoids many of the own goals we have seen in recent times.”

UUP policing board representative Mike Nesbitt welcomed Mr Boutcher’s appointment.

Mr Nesbitt said: “I want to congratulate Jon Boutcher on his appointment. He has shown a strong start as the interim Chief Constable, improving officer and staff morale and promptly dealing with a number of challenging issues.

“I feel we will see more of the same under his leadership and look forward to working with him through my position on the Policing Board.”

Mr Kelly said: “I have met Mr Boutcher in his capacity as the interim Chief Constable and look forward to continuing to have a productive and positive engagement. We must collaborate across a number of areas but most of all, our officers want to know their Chief Constable has their back.

“The list of what must be fixed is long and can only be addressed by a meaningful and realistic funding package from Government. Taken together, the Service will need a commitment to invest up to £500 million.”