Northern Irish police work to assess threat after staff data leak

LONDON (Reuters) -Northern Ireland’s police force has set up an emergency threat assessment group and updated personal security advice to its officers and staff following an accidental data leak, it said on Wednesday.

The surnames, initials, work location and department of each staff member were made public after they were included in error in response to a freedom of information request, and published on the requestor’s website for around two-and-a-half hours.

The accidental release is hugely sensitive in Northern Ireland, where police officers are still sporadically targeted by dissident groups in bomb and gun attacks, despite a 1998 peace deal largely ending three decades of sectarian violence in the province.

“We have issued updated personal security advice to all of our officers and staff and have established an emergency threat assessment group,” the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said in an update.

“As well as general advice on safety and security this multi-disciplinary group will focus on immediate support to those with specific circumstances which they believe place them or their families at immediate risk or increased threat of harm.”

They described the data leak as an “extremely serious situation”.

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents officers, has described the data release as especially sensitive as many “go to great lengths and do everything possible to protect their police identity and role”.

Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency increased the threat level in Northern Ireland from domestic terrorism to severe – meaning an attack is highly likely – after an off-duty officer was left seriously wounded in February following a gun attack by the new IRA, one of the small militant groups opposed to peace.

Separately on Wednesday, the PSNI said it was investigating the circumstances around the theft of documents, including a spreadsheet with the names of over 200 serving officers and staff, a police issue laptop and radio.

They are belived to have been stolen from a private vehicle on July 6, police said.

(Reporting by William James, additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar; writing by Muvija M; Editing by Kate Holton)