The North’s Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire has launched a legal action against PSNI Chief Matt Baggott over the failure to provide information on major investigations into killings throughout the conflict.
The dramatic move follows long-running complaints over delays in the PSNI’s co-operation with investigators reviewing allegations of Crown force wrongdoing.
The Ombudsman is seeking a judicial review of Baggott’s conduct. It is understood that at least some of the cases involve informers or state agents.
The dispute centres on recent and historic cases, ranging from the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, where loyalist gunmen killed six people as they watched the World Cup in a County Down bar, to an attack just four years ago in which a PSNI member was injured.
In a statement, the ombudsman’s office said that despite repeated requests over past months, the PSNI has on more than 100 occasions “either refused to provide information to the office or has said that it must first explain and justify why the material is wanted”.
In response, the PSNI claimed there were “complicated, and sometimes unfortunately competing, legal issues” but that its “primary consideration” was that of “protecting life”.
It has long been believed that the RUC did not conduct a proper investigation into the Loughinisland pub massacre because there was collusion between the force and the UVF death squad which carried out the killings.
A report by the previous police ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, concluded that the RUC failed to properly investigate what happened at Loughinisland, but said there was insufficient evidence of collusion. Those findings were quashed after a legal challenge by relatives of those who were killed.
Mr Maguire is now conducting a fresh investigation. He insisted he was legally entitled to the information being held by the PSNI. “The Police Ombudsman’s office does not do investigations by negotiation,” he said.
Other cases Baggott is accused of blocking include incidents where member of the police have been killed.
RUC woman Colleen McMurray died and another was seriously injured when their car was hit by a mortar in Newry, County Down, in March 1992. It has been claimed that the RUC’s Special Branch had advance warning about the attack, and that at least two IRA informers were involved.
The Ombudsman is also trying to find out if the PSNI contributed to the 2006 death of former senior Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson, after he had been exposed as an RUC/PSNI and MI5 informer.
An inquiry into an attack in 2010 by the breakaway ‘dissident’ group, Oglaigh na hEireann, in which Catholic PSNI man Peader Heffron was seriously injured, is also being blocked by Baggott.
Sinn Fein Assembly member Caitriona Ruane said the PSNI chief’s refusal to provide information to the ombudsman was “entirely unacceptable”.
“This is affecting several key and high profile cases in which families such as those in Loughinisland are seeking the truth and it will damage overall confidence in the PSNI,” she said.
“It is therefore not surprising that the ombudsman has been forced to take this action against Matt Baggott.
“We commend him for exhausting every avenue to conclude on these investigations despite the barriers being put in place and support victims and survivors and their families.”
* It was announced separately this week that the PSNI Chief is to accelerate his departure from the force by two months. Baggott, who had been due to retire at the end of August, is now expected to vacate his post by the end of June.