BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Northern Ireland’s police chief says it was right to arrest Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams over a 1972 Irish Republican Army killing even though no charges have been filed because a judge found the evidence warranted an extended interrogation.
In his first comment since Adams spent five days behind bars, Chief Constable Matt Baggott said Tuesday that Adams’ Irish nationalist party was wrong to say that their leader had been persecuted for political reasons.
During Adams’ detention, which ended Sunday, other Sinn Fein officials accused Protestant hardliners in the police force of conspiring to smear Adams.
Baggott, an Englishman who has led the Police Service of Northern Ireland since 2009, said over a decade of reforms meant that his agency is one of the world’s most scrutinized law enforcement bodies. He noted it was overseen by a civilian panel that includes Sinn Fein leaders and been held to account by a human rights commission and an independent complaints watchdog.
“As such, questioning the motivation or impartiality of police officers tasked with investigating serious crime in this very public, generalized and vague manner is both unfair and inappropriate,” Baggott said.
Baggott said his officers should be able to arrest and question murder suspects “regardless of any undue pressures. It would have been wrong to treat Mr. Adams any differently to other citizens.”
Baggott noted that, midway through Adams’ detention, detectives had to go to court to seek a judge’s permission to extend his custody. They presented evidence and received an extra 48 hours. The judge, he said, “decided that there were grounds for further detention.”
After his release, Adams denied any involvement in the outlawed IRA or in the 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow of 10. An IRA veteran, in an audiotaped interview for a Boston College oral history archive, had accused Adams of being the group’s Belfast commander at the time and responsible for ordering her disappearance.
Police have sent their evidence to state prosecutors, who will decide whether to press charges.