Police in Northern Ireland are asking for guns to protect themselves after the biggest security breach in the region’s history.
Officers who claim their bosses have refused to issue them with handguns have said they have been left “defenceless”.
They spoke out after, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) declared a “critical incident” on Wednesday after the data of all 10,000 of its officers and civilian employees, including dozens who work with the British intelligence services were published online.
The blunder is particularly dangerous in Northern Ireland, where dissident republican terrorist groups have branded officers and their family members “legitimate targets” and the terror threat is “severe”.
In February, the real IRA attempted to murder off-duty Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell in a shooting carried out as he attended his son’s football coaching.
Despite the increased threat to their lives, multiple police officers contacted the Belfast Telegraph to say they had been refused applications for personal protection weapons.
Unlike in the rest of the UK, officers in Northern Ireland can be issued Glock 17 pistols for their security.
“This breach has added greatly to my anxiety… I feel near breaking point,” one officer involved in house searches of suspected terrorists, told the newspaper.
“I now believe that this information will be used by violent dissident republicans to track, locate, attack and possibly murder officers.”
Another officer said he felt “cast aside by the organisation” and was only given “a useless security leaflet”.
A third officer said, “I have no confidence whatsoever in my line management, never mind senior management.
“I have no means to protect myself and my family should we come under direct attack from those who wish to harm us because of the job we do.”
Some Catholic officers keep their jobs secret from their communities, and even family, for fear of repercussions.
One Catholic officer without a weapon said he had lost all confidence in the PSNI and wanted to quit.
“I keep my curtains closed all day and night,” he said, “I am genuinely extremely frightened now.”
Responsibility for issuing the weapons falls to Simon Byrne, the chief constable, who has insisted he will not resign after the scandal but has admitted dissident republican groups claim to be in possession of the leaked data.
Before a gun is issued, the chief constable must believe there is a “real and immediate risk” and that the firearm is a “necessary measure to protect the life of the applicant”.
There are other considerations, such as whether an officer has a history of violence or mental health problems, but officers told the Belfast Telegraph the reasons they were refused the weapons were purely bureaucratic.
Officers said that they had not received updated security advice since the leak, despite claims by the PSNI’s top brass that they had issued new personal guidance after the blunder.
“It is not our policy to discuss the personal security of any individual officer. Nor do we discuss specific cases or individual applications for personal protection weapons,” the PSNI said when asked if it would issue weapons on an interim basis.
But it added the safety and welfare of officers was its priority.
Posted on wall facing Sinn Féin’s office
The data leak document was posted on a wall facing Sinn Féin’s office on the Falls Road in Belfast overnight on Sunday.
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin’s policing spokesperson, said the posting of the document was sinister.
The document, with the names of the officers removed, was posted on the wall with a photo of Mr Kelly and a threatening message.
“This is a very obvious attempt by dissident republicans to intimidate me. Even more sinister, this is a very public indication that the dissidents do have access to the sensitive information in the data leak document, it, therefore represents a very real threat to the officers, and the civilian staff involved,” he said.
Over the weekend BBC Northern Ireland reported some 1,700 PSNI staff have reported concerns since the data was leaked.
One support worker said he was suffering “sleepless nights” since the breach and no longer attended his child’s Gaelic football training.