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Northern Ireland’s police chief has resisted demands to quit following a scandal engulfing his leadership, vowing after seven hours of grilling from the force’s oversight board that he would stay on in the job.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne was already under fire after a data breach in August posted the identities of all Police Service of Northern Ireland’s serving officers and staff on a public internet site.

But a High Court judicial review ruling this week has put his career on the line. The court found that the PSNI had unlawfully disciplined two officers in 2021 because of a “real or perceived” threat, which Sinn Féin has denied, that the nationalist party would remove support from the region’s police unless it did so.

Byrne on Thursday evening emerged defiant from questioning by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the force’s 19-member oversight body which includes representatives from political parties.

He said the PSNI could yet appeal against Mr Justice Scoffield’s ruling.

“After consideration, the question of an appeal is live,” Byrne said, adding: “Further public commentary around the matter is not appropriate at this stage.”

Liam Kelly, chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank-and-file officers, condemned any appeal, saying he was “disgusted, disillusioned and extremely angry” that Byrne appeared to be U-turning. Byrne had said in a statement after the judicial review ruling this week: “I accept the findings of the court.”

The unexpected suggestion of an appeal following the High Court ruling that the PSNI’s decision to suspend one officer and transfer the other to different duties had been unlawful, had “infuriated and antagonised” officers and members had “expressed disbelief and anger”, Kelly said.

The disciplinary action had followed the 2021 arrest of a man during a commemoration of the victims of a 1992 loyalist paramilitary attack on a Belfast bookmaker’s in which five Catholics were killed. The man arrested had been wounded in the attack.

Asked on his way out of the policing board meeting if he would now be considering his position, Byrne said: “I’m not resigning.”

Byrne survived a grilling from the policing board earlier in August after an administrative blunder released the personal details of nearly 10,000 officers and staff on a public internet site. Many police feared their safety had been compromised as a result.

The chief constable, who rushed back from his holiday to deal with the fallout of the leak, admitted the information had fallen into the hands of republican groups who are opposed to Northern Ireland’s peace process and have a history of attacking police, but insisted he would not stand down.

However, the fresh controversy has intensified the pressure on him. The suggestion that senior police officers bowed to political pressure over the handling of the 2021 arrest, which happened when Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings were in force, has incensed unionist politicians.

Sinn Féin has denied it threatened or insinuated that it would withdraw support for policing over the PSNI’s handling of the incident.

Northern Ireland suffered a three-decades-long conflict involving republican paramilitaries fighting to reunite Ireland, loyalist paramilitaries seeking to keep the region in the UK, and British security forces.

Since a peace deal in 1998, political decisions require support from both unionist and nationalist politicians representing both communities in the still deeply divided region.

The Democratic Unionist party, the region’s largest pro-UK political grouping, the more moderate Ulster Unionist party and the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice have all called for Byrne to resign. The UUP called the 2021 incident a “car crash of policing”.

The Police Federation has called an extraordinary meeting of its executive central committee for next Wednesday and said a vote of confidence in Byrne’s leadership could take place.

Byrne will next Tuesday face questioning by the Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster over the data breach.

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