Baggott & Baggage

Matt Baggott the English police officer who a few years ago took visible charge of British policing operations in the North and who has since announced his decision to vacate the post, might best be remembered for not being remembered at all. Unlike his predecessor Hugh Orde, Matt Baggott failed to stamp his authority - if he ever had any given the hegemony of MI5 in security related matters – on policing in the North. He also lacked the charisma and élan that Orde brought to the job to the point, it might be jested, where cops on the beat were subjected to taunts of being grey bastards rather than black ones.

If there were any high points in Baggotts’s tenure they were down to the fumes from the cannabis seizures made periodically by his force. Otherwise, someone else’s recall will do what this memory cannot: prompt us as to what the highs actually were. Even as he prepares to return to what his force considers the policing mainland, his incumbency is mired in a bog of political policing, bad faith and cover up.

In spite of its own self-promoting but unwarranted claim to operate in accordance with some ‘statutory duty to investigate fully all matters of serious crime, including murder’ the PSNI on Baggott’s watch stands accused of withholding from the North’s police ombudsman, Michael Maguire, vital information relating to 60 conflict related killings. Obviously such information would reveal material evidence that would lead back to the involvement of British state personnel in ‘all matters of serious crime, including murder.’ At that point the trail will be made to go cold and statutory duty told to back off.

This probably goes some way toward explaining recent comments by Baggott at a meeting of the policing board that:

I'm a great believer, as my colleagues are, in both justice and truth. But dealing with the past is both debilitating and toxic to confidence in today's police service. It is time to deal with the past in a different way, which does not ignore it, but moves it to one side and puts leadership, investigation and resolution in different, independent hands. 

Prompted by the institutional imperative - rather than statutory duty - to cover up “state terrorism” Baggott has become a convert to dealing with the past in a different way, seemingly through the application of a non-prosecutorial truth recovery process and has taken to doing some of the heavy lifting in advance of his successor George Hamilton taking over the reins at Knock. 

While hardly motivated by any fidelity to truth and justice per se – more a case of damage limitation for a force caught with its hand in the cover-up cookie jar – and drawing the flak that might otherwise might be hurled Hamilton’s way if he opts to follow through on Baggott’s proposal, the discursive switch by the departing chief constable has still to clear one very substantive hurdle. That comes in the form of the conservative Northern political class that thus far has shown little inclination to tackle a past it can continue to mine for unexploded devices that may be detonated beneath the feet of current political opponents. What – kill the goose that lays golden landmines? Not a chance. We will never forget what you did to us and we will never remember what we did to you. Long live the past, our version of it anyway. 


  1. Baggot was appointed because of his commitment to, and experience in, promoting community policing, known in Ireland as, peelers going round spying and doing you if your car's not taxed.

  2. Truth is he was brought in to move policing on and give credibility to PSNI as something apart from its predecessor the RUC. He failed. The reputation of the PSNI is in tatters, the toxic legacy of the RUC playing no small part here