Departing Ombudsman warns of collusion dangers
Departing Ombudsman warns of collusion dangers

Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan - who left office this week - has revealed that she could not believe what she was seeing when she compiled her major report on police collusion with UVF killers earlier this year.

And she warned that the kind of collusion she exposed between the British Crown forces and unionist paramilitaries could happen again.

Her report revealed that the UVF gang that murdered Raymond McCord Jnr and nine other people had been protected by the PSNI police.

In her final press interview as Ombudsman, Mrs O’Loan said the North of Ireland risks its future if there is no effort to grapple with the past.

And she indicated that she believes similar collusion could have happened elsewhere across the North because of the way Crown force intelligence papers are routinely destroyed.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mrs O’Loan reveals that she didn’t want to give up her job -- the role is limited to seven years by law - and that she feared for her life following attacks by unionist politicians.

She also outlines why she believes the report on the 1998 Omagh bomb was a watershed, because it ended a taboo on official criticism of the RUC, and explains why her successor will have to continue investigating the past.

Mrs O’Loan says she came under enormous pressure from the British government while compiling her collusion reports.

“Omagh was bad, but McCord was much worse,” she said. “When we did that I was constantly saying to the investigators, ‘go and show me again, show me this statement, show me this document’ because I had difficulty believing what I was going to have to report and I had to go through every single bit of evidence to satisfy myself before I would use it and I would make the statement that had to be made.

“Some of the things that we discovered were unexpected to me as Police Ombudsman, and therefore I would expect they were equally unexpected to Ministers and to civil servants who had no responsibility or involvement in the earlier period.”

Mrs O’Loan says “elements of what happened... may well have been replicated across the rest of the PSNI” -- because of the way records were routinely destroyed and the PSNI’s decision to dump 12% of informers.

“They conducted an operation, they had papers relating to it, and they routinely destroyed them afterwards. That was province-wide. I would say that because of the deficiency in management and supervision which I know existed, and because of the deficiency in policy and practices, there was, I think, the opportunity for similar things to have happened elsewhere but that’s as far as I will go.”

She still has concerns about intelligence safeguards.

“Because that didn’t happen 20 years ago. That stopped in 2003 because we did the McCord investigation. I think everyone has to be very clear about that because it could happen again.”

Al Hutchinson, a Canadian who achieved high rank in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and has held the position of police Oversight Commissioner in the North, became the new Police Ombudsman this week.

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness visited the Office of the Police Ombudsman as Nuala O’Loan’s term in the post came to an end. Speaking after the meeting, Mr McGuinness said she and her colleagues had “carried out their duties in a professional and diligent manner.

“As she leaves her post today I would thank her for the service she has given and I wish her well in the future. I also look forward to the new Ombudsman taking up his position and carrying on with the good work begun by Ms O’Loan and her team.”

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