Ombudsman urged to quit over botched report
Al Hutchinson’s job as the Six-County Police Ombudsman is in doubt after being forced to cancel publication of an official report by his office into the 1971 McGurk’s bar massacre.
Fifteen people, including pensioners and two children, were killed when the UVF bomb exploded in the Catholic-owned pub.
The Ombudsman admitted yesterday he has never met with the relatives of those who died in the loyalist attack, which he now accepted was wrong.
And he said he also accepted the reputation of his office has been damaged.
The one-man ‘watchdog’ came in for severe criticism from relatives of some of those killed who challenged his decision to effectively exonerate the PSNI (and formerly RUC) investigation into the UVF attack almost 40 years ago.
His office also confirmed the document contains significant errors, including names of some of the 15 victims of the 1971 attack, as well as the dates given in the report -- even including the year the attack took place.
Angry families of some of the victims who were given advance sight of the report were outraged by its conclusion that, on balance, the police investigation at the time had been “reasonably thorough”.
British allegations at the time, repeated by the police, that the explosion had been an IRA “own goal” added to the pain of the bereaved, partly because they falsely implied some in the bar may have been IRA members.
Two years ago the then British ‘Security Minister’ in Ireland, Paul Goggins, apologised for the false claims made by British officials at the time of the bombing.
There are now calls for Prime Minister David Cameron to also apologise to the families.
Mr Hutchinson, who is hoping to meet the families next week, said: “I have to hear from the families what the specific mistakes were... I have not met as yet the families. That is a mistake, which I accept.
“I simply read the reports of others. It was also a mistake not to give the families more time to read the report.
“So I’ve decided not to formally publish (it) until I’ve heard their concerns and assessed what they are. We should have discussed this in more detail. I wish that I had personally done that.
“But I would not be for resigning. I am in public service to put right what has been put wrong I wouldn’t say it’s an embarrassment, I take it as a learning opportunity -- we must do better.”
Alex McLaughlin, whose father died in the bombing, said: “It’s the proper thing to do for the Ombudsman to take this report back and have a look at it seriously. I’m highly delighted that this has happened and they’ve seen a bit of sense.”
Robert McClenaghan, whose grandfather was among the victims, said there were glaring errors, which included omitting the name of one of the dead and adding a wrong name to the list of the dead.
He also expressed “deep anger” at the ombudsmen’s treatment of the families.
“On Wednesday we were handed this report by two junior clerks from the ombudsman’s office who had no idea what was contained in this report,” he said.
“We pointed out the glaring and highly insulting mistakes in this report and asked the ombudsman to postpone publication.
“We were told in no uncertain terms the the ombudsman would be going ahead with publication on Friday regardless of the serious inconsistencies contained in what has now been shown to be a thoroughly discredited report.
“AI Hutchinson should now do the decent thing and resign.
“His last official action as police ombudsman should be to throw this report in the bin where it belongs.”