The police investigation into the murder of Catholic man Sean Brown in 1997 has been taken apart in a damning report by the Police Ombudsman today.

The report is a damning indictment of the policy of collusion and cover up in what was a mockery of a police investigation.

Nuala O'Loan branded inquiries into the killing of Sean Brown, 61, in County Derry as ``incomplete and inadequate'' and that no real effort had been made to apprehend the killers.

She concluded that, while it was clear police officers probing the murder did not get full co-operation from the community, there were ``significant failures in the investigation''.

Speaking today, she also described the disappearance of files on the case as ``sinister''. Although she found no evidence of collusion, there was a clear suggestion in the Ombudsman's report that such evidence may have simply been destroyed.

The report also backed the complaints of the family who said that they had been treated with contempt and that the former RUC and PSNI Chief Ronnie Flanagan had ignored a request from the Corone for an outside investigation.

The report listed a catalogue of failures and also highlighted the sudden disappearance of the police file on the murder once it was known the ombudsman was carrying out an investigation.

The PSNI mounted as major damage limitation exercise in advance of the report's publication. PSNI Chief Hugh Orde, admitted today there had been ``significant failures'' in the force. He apologised to the Brown family and said he had set up a special team to reinvestigate the murder.

Mr Brown, chairman of a Gaelic Athletic Association club in Bellaghy, was abducted from outside the club late on May 12, 1997.

He was driven in the boot of his car several miles to near Randalstown where he was shot six times. His body was found next to the car which had been set alight.

The Loyalist Volunteer Force was blamed but, although a number of people were questioned, nobody was charged.

Launching her report at a Belfast news conference, Mrs O'Loan highlighted a series of failures in the original police investigation.

On the forensic front, a number of cigarette butts found close to the body of the murdered man were not subjected to DNA analysis. No biological samples were taken from any of the people arrested for questioning and later released.

There had been no proper search for witnesses and one man who did come forward did not have his information followed up.

Mrs O'Loan noted that all relevant intelligence material had not been passed to the original police investigation team.

She was most critical about disappearing police files. She said the Murder Investigation Policy file, drawn up by the now retired senior investigating officer and detailing how the inquiry was conducted, had disappeared from a police station after her probe was announced.

``I regard it as sinister that this document disappeared,'' she said. ``It was the only document which disappeared form this particular police station.''

She said the absence of the document ``seriously impeded my investigation'' as it contained details written down by the senior investigating officer about why he had done certain things and equally why he had not done other things.

In her report, Mrs O'Loan recommended a full independent review into the murder and that the Brown family be kept informed of all developments.

The review, she recommended, should be linked with the investigation of two other murders, in which the same or a similar weapon was used.

She said the Brown family's concerns about the quality of the investigation had caused them significant additional stress and suffering. Sshe had recommended that the Chief Constable pay them the maximum amount permitted under the Police (NI) Act 1988 -- two thousand pounds in recognition of the distress.

She said the amount of money was not a lot, but added: ``It is the only payment that I can recommend.''

She said no disciplinary action could be taken against the senior officer who headed the murder probe because of his retirement.

Before launching the report publicly, Mrs O'Loan visited the Brown family to present them with a copy of it. She described Mr Brown as ``a good man, a courageous man.''

Speaking after the launch, Mr Brown's son, Damian, said the report had ``opened up a lot of wounds'' of the horror of the day his father died.

He said the family had demanded a totally independent inquiry by a police force outside Northern Ireland, adding: ``We will not be happy with an investigation by the PSNI, we want it by a totally outside force.''

The family's lawyer, Kevin Winter, said the original probe had been seriously wrong and flawed, and a reinvestigation by the PSNI would ``only be a case of tarring over the cracks using the same brush''.

He revealed the family had today instructed him to take legal action to stop the fresh investigation unless it was conducted by someone other than the PSNI.

Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness said he believed that the murder of Sean Brown ten days after the 1997 Westminster election was a direct response by the unionist paramilitaries to the DUP MP Willie Mc losing his seat.

He also questioned the current role of former RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan as a Policing Inspector given the content of thes report.

``It is my belief that serious questions remain over the current position of Ronnie Flanagan as a policing inspector given the detail contained in this report and other similar probes.

``There is also now an onus on the current PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde to state publicly if the individuals involved in the original investigation are still members of his force and to explain how files went missing from barracks where only his officers had access to them.

Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to Sean Brown's family who he said had ``refused to accept the lies and the half truths. They demanded to know the truth and they have pursued this matter relentlessly over the past six years.

``It is my hope that this Report can act as a catalyst to allow the family of Sean Brown to finally discover the truth around his murder.''

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2004 Irish Republican News