There has been a cautious welcome to the appointment of former oversight commissioner Al Hutchinson as Police Ombudsman in the North.
The Canadian ex-Mountie will take over from Nuala O’Loan in November, British Secretary Peter Hain announced yesterday.
Mr Hutchinson, who was appointed oversight commissioner in 2004, has published a number of largely uncontroversial reports into the transformation of the RUC to the PSNI under the Patten police reforms.
Sinn Féin policing spokesman Alex Maskey last night said he looked forward to working with Mr Hutchinson but warned that nationalists would expect him to continue Mrs O’Loan’s work in tackling critical issues such as collusion.
“She was at times faced with a lack of co-operation from both serving and former officers. People will expect the new incumbent to show similar courage in dealing with these sorts of difficult issues particularly given the recent failure of the British government to face up to these matters.”
Mr Maskey said the office of the Police Ombudsman held “a vital place in building public confidence in the new policing dispensation” particularly within the nationalist and republican community which he said had to endure bad policing practice for generations.
“Al Hutchinson has obviously built up a deep knowledge of the policing problems which still exist here during his time as Oversight Commissioner. I look forward to working with him in his new role and will be seeking an early meeting with him to discus his new position.”
Mark Thompson of victims’ group Relatives for Justice paid tribute to the work of Mrs O’Loan and said he would be seeking a meeting with the new ombudsman.
“The Office of the Police Ombudsman has a statutory remit and it’s our intention that the remit is maximised to its full potential,” he said.
SDLP assembly member Dolores Kelly said Mr Hutchinson would have a “hard act to follow” and insisted he would have to “be able to face down secretaries of state, ministers and even prime ministers and hold firm to the essence of the role”.
DUP assembly member Jimmy Spratt was less guarded in his response and praised Mr Hutchinson’s “absolute integrity and impartiality in all his work as oversight commissioner”.
“No tears will be shed in policing circles at the demise of the present ombudsman,” Mr Spratt added, “given the widespread belief that her office has acted in a partisan manner towards the former Royal Ulster Constabulary and its officers, and indeed in many of her dealings with serving police officers who, it was apparent, were unwilling to co-operate with her.”
Mr Hutchinson last night said he was pleased to have been selected and looked forward to “facing the new challenges as police ombudsman”.