Northern Ireland’s chief constable will retire at the end of June, two months earlier than planned, he has announced.
Matt Baggott told his oversight body – the Northern Ireland Policing Board - today that he was bringing his departure date forward to June 29.
“I have been hugely privileged to be chief constable,” he said.
Mr Baggott paid tribute to colleagues, insisting the PSNI was becoming one of the “finest police services in the world”.
He also took the opportunity to urge the region’s politicians to press for consensus on dealing with the toxic legacy of the Troubles, claiming that the time had come for historic investigations to be taken over by a separate independent body.
Last week current Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton was named Mr Baggott’s successor.
Mr Hamilton, the first home-grown chief constable for 12 years, saw off competition from Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick and Garda Assistant Commissioner Derek Byrne during an intensive round of interviews and testing at the Policing Board.
Mr Baggott is retiring after five years in the high-profile post.
During his tenure he has found himself at the centre of a number of controversies – the most recent developing earlier this week when the region’s Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire threatened him with legal action over a failure to disclose sensitive files relating to allegations of police misconduct.
He has also clashed with both nationalist and unionist politicians on multiple occasions – a fact his supporters may point to as indicating a measure of success in navigating an impartial route across Northern Ireland’s political minefield.
The loyalist rioting that broke out in late 2012 over a dispute about the flying of the Union flag on Belfast City Hall was a case in point.
Mr Baggott was initially criticised by nationalists for not taking tough enough action against the rioters, whose violence was often targeted at police, but when arrests did start to flow in the weeks and months that followed he found himself accused by unionists of heavy-handedly victimising members of their community.
In his plus column, the outgoing commander can point to the trouble-free staging of the G8 summit in Co Fermanagh last summer – an event hailed by Prime Minister David Cameron as one of the most peaceful in recent memory – and a general fall in non-terrorist crime rates.
He also managed to secure a major £250m-plus funding package from the Treasury to support the fight against the dissidents.
In his bid to get more policemen and women out into the community, he re-deployed more than 700 officers from desk jobs to the street beat.
But his detractors would highlight a perceived failure to sometimes publicly accept criticism of past and current colleagues – he faced such claims over his reaction to a Police Ombudsman investigation that alleged the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s investigation into the 1971 bombing of McGurk’s bar in Belfast by loyalists was tainted by “bias”.
As with many appointees from beyond local shores, the Londoner also found himself accused of failing to understand the nuances of Northern Ireland’s complex political realities – justified or not, it was a perception that circulated.
A devout Christian who once revealed he prayed for the dissident republicans who targeted his officers, he applied for Northern Ireland’s top policing job in 2009 on the back of what he described as a calling from God.
Appointed as an advocate of community policing, the efforts of the former Leicestershire chief constable to strengthen the link between his officers and the public in Northern Ireland were undermined by a deterioration in the security situation.
He wanted to focus on a modernising agenda, but was ultimately prevented from fully doing so by a resurgence in dissident terrorism and all too regular bouts of serious disorder.