A stand against the securocrats
A stand against the securocrats

Policing in the North is once again in crisis after the chief executive at the Police Ombudsman's office suddenly quit, blaming senior government officials for interfering in the office's investigations.

Sam Pollock said the 'watchdog' for the PSNI police had been compromised, and that he had been subjected to malicious personal attacks after raising his concerns.

The office was set up as part of the policing reform process agreed under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Mr Pollock has been chief executive since the office opened ten-and-a-half years ago, with the widely respected Nuala O'Loan serving as Ombudsman.

Al Hutchinson, who take over the post following the departure of O'Loan, was always viewed as a member of the Stormont establishment. At the weekend, he denied the office's independence had been undermined. "If it were otherwise, I would say so," he declared.

Mr Pollock was at Mr Hutchinson's side in February, when the Ombudsman published his second, revised report into the murders of 15 people in McGurk's bar in 1971.

However, he wrote to the ombudsman just over three weeks ago announcing that he had decided to resign -- and making it very clear that he was unhappy with the situation.

His letter contained strong criticism of the relationship between the Ombudsman's office and the PSNI and senior civil servants since Mr Hutchinson took over the job almost three-and-a half years ago.

The letter made clear the independence of the office had been compromised.

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP said they were concerned by the development. Sinn Fein policing spokesman Alex Maskey said the allegations needed to be urgently investigated.

"The independence of the Police Ombudsman's office goes to the very core of the new policing dispensation," he said.

"Any suggestion that the NIO [the British government's Northern Ireland Office] or the Department of Justice [at Stormont] have been interfering in the work of the Police Ombudsman or that the ombudsman himself is in any way compromised needs to be investigated quickly and the findings made public.

Mr Pollock's resignation has come as a major embarrassment to the political establishment ahead of key Assembly and local elections.

A campaigner for the victims of the McGurk's bar bomb said the families would be questioning what implications Pollock's allegations may have had in their case.

Hutchinson was criticised by the relatives amid concerns that his initial report in July was full of errors and did not properly address RUC (now PSNI) investigative failings and collusion.

The report was withdrawn following complaints from relatives and a new report published in February.

"It seems Sam Pollock knew that the McGurk's report would be his last official engagement," said McGurk's campaigner Ciaran MacAirt.

"My personal view is that the ombudsman's office has always been a flawed body in that it is funded by the British government to investigate actions by the state."

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© 2011 Irish Republican News