Police Ombudsman damned in new report
Police Ombudsman damned in new report

The Police Ombudsman’s Office is heavily criticised in a new report into its work.

The office was established in 2000 and was intended to be a key building block in the peace process and was aimed at securing nationalist confidence in policing.

But a review by human rights group the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has catalogued serious concerns over the independence and effectiveness of the office and the appointment Canadian Al Hutchinson following the retirement of Nuala O’Loan.

CAJ said its investigation uncovered irregularities in appointment procedures to the office and called into question the body’s independence from the PSNI and from the British government’s Northern Ireland Office.

The oversight body was accused of failing to hold the PSNI/RUC police to account for historic cases in the conflict, while also failing to draw up a definition of what qualifies as “collusion” in criminal activity, so as to help identify potential police wrongdoing.

“CAJ began analysis of the work of the police ombudsman last summer, following growing unease amongst families, victims, legal representatives and human rights groups about the approach of the Police Ombudsman’s Office to historic cases,” Mick Beyers, policing programme officer at CAJ said.

“The research has raised serious concerns in relation to the failure of the office to define and apply the term ‘collusion’ in a consistent manner across all investigations and a failure to hold the police to account in relation to historic cases.

“It also identifies serious concerns about the length of time it takes for the office to investigate and report on a case, particularly in light of the quality of the reports.”

The report also revealed “a range of irregularities” in the recruitment process which led to Mr Hutchinson taking the top post ahead of two other senior figures.

Mr Beyers said the appointment had “a significant impact on the independence of and interference in the Office of the Police Ombudsman.”

CAJ deputy director Aideen Gilmore said the report uncovered “very serious concerns” that “lead us to question whether the office is fit for purpose”.

An official investigation is already said to be underway into the recent resignation of the chief executive turned whistleblower of the so-called ‘watchdog’ body.

Sam Pollock revealed the independence of the Police Ombudsman’s office had been undermined by interference from senior civil servants at the Stormont Department of Justice, a number of whom have links to the NIO.

The latest report comes as that controversy continues.

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