The PSNI version of what happened on 4 October 2002

Following the publication of a report and commentary by us on 22 December last on the significance of the "outing" of Denis Donaldson as a British agent, Sinéad McSweeney Director of Media and PR, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland responded. She wrote:

"The search at Stormont on 4 October 2002 was not carried out by PSNI Special Branch. It was carried out by PSNI uniformed officers at the direction of a senior investigating officer who was investigating the theft of documents from the Northern Ireland Office.

"It was not, as you termed it, a photo opportunity. I would refer you to the report of the Police Ombudsman who investigated a number of complaints arising specifically from the search which said: 'The Police Ombudsman's investigators did not uncover any evidence that police alerted the media to the imminent search at Stormont.

"While an Ulster Television camera crew was present and filmed the early stages of the search operation, the Police Ombudsman's Office has found no evidence that the broadcasters had been pre-warned by any police officer. UTV has confirmed that they did not receive advance notice from the police.

"I would also refer you to Martina Purdy's book Stormont 21 which was published recently. She gives an account of events that day including the fact that Gerry Kelly directed media to the Sinn Féin offices. She also quotes Bairbre de Brún as shouting at officers that they were leaving 'when the media arrives'.

"The search of the office at Stormont occurred after the search of a house in West Belfast (rather than before as detailed in your article). The sequence of events is best described by the Police Ombudsman's report which states:

"'Investigators established that PSNI officers had earlier that morning carried out searches at a number of locations in the greater Belfast area in relation to alleged serious criminal offences under investigation. As a result of those searches, the PSNI decided that it would also be necessary to search a specific desk used by one particular individual, and the area immediately adjacent to that desk, in the Sinn Féin offices at Parliament Buildings.

"'Police Ombudsman investigators have viewed the intelligence available to the PSNI that morning and have interviewed several people, including the officer who took the decision to initiate the search and the Justice of the Peace who granted the warrant under schedule 5 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

"'On the basis of the intelligence available, I can say that the Detective Chief Superintendent's decision to seek a warrant authorising a search of a specific desk in the Sinn Féin offices was reasonable, proportionate and legal. The Justice of the Peace who issued the warrant also thought this. We have not uncovered any evidence that the police decision-making was influenced inappropriately by any other officers within the PSNI, by politicians or by any other parties", said Mrs O'Loan.

"You will see that the first paragraph of the section above also explains why the search was of one office rather than all of the Sinn Féin offices and why police "made no attempt to search anywhere" as you put it. The searching of only one office goes to proportionality rather than conspiracy.

"The section quoted also deals with any suggestion that the search was inspired by some ulterior motive of the Police Service of Northern Ireland or any branch of it".