A new report into the Police Ombudsman’s office in the North has revealed that it is routinely engaging in the cover-up of key intelligence details and censoring its own reports in order to bolster the reputation of the PSNI police and its predecessor, the RUC.
Ombudsman Al Hutchinson, the former Canadian police chief who was appointed to the post four years ago, is again under intense pressure to resign.
In April, two separate investigations were launched into the Office of Police Ombudsman after its chief executive Sam Pollock resigned. Pollock dramatically quit, warning that British officials had interfered in the office and that there had been a “significant lowering of the professional independence” between the Ombudsman’s office and the PSNI.
An investigation by the Criminal Justice Inspector (CJI) Dr Michael Maguire, has now concluded that the loss of independence means the Ombudsman should now be suspended from investigating historic killings.
It also found that a number of Ombudsman reports were altered or rewritten to exclude criticism of the PSNI and the RUC, with no explanation.
Among the other findings were that Hutchinson had lost the trust of key members of staff. Senior officials demanded to be disassociated from investigations after their original findings were dramatically altered without reason. Others said that key intelligence had been deliberately withheld from them.
In the report, not due to be published until next month but leaked to ‘The Detail’ website, major inconsistencies were also uncovered in the already-published ombudsman investigations into the Loughinisland, McGurk’s Bar and Claudy killings.
CJI inspectors looked at more than a dozen historic cases in which the ombudsman was asked to investigate allegations that the RUC/PSNI failed to properly investigate attacks during the conflict.
Inspectors found what they said was “a lack of consistency” in how reports were checked for quality and inaccuracies. Senior ombudsman officials were found to have been bitterly divided over a lack of criticism of the RUC/PSNI investigation of the Loughinisland atrocity, in which the RUC/PSNI protected agents involved in the massacre.
Inspectors also found that an original report by the Ombudsman’s office into the McGurk’s Bar atrocity had been altered to reduce criticism of the RUC. The report had to be reverted back to its original version after furious criticism by the families of the 15 victims.
Another report, into allegations that the RUC had allowed three innocent civilians to die in a booby-trap bomb attack in order to protect one of their informers, was completed in 2008. However, by the time it was to be made public, almost two years later, it had been substantially rewritten, both in its contents and findings. That report remains unpublished.
CJI inspectors also identified major divisions between the ombudsman’s civilian staff and the former RUC members who are employed by Ombudsman’s office.
In 2008 a decision to give seniority within the office to former RUC members “prompted deep division and mistrust”, according to the CJI. Only the ombudsman’s chief executive, Sam Pollock, was not a former policeman. He resigned in anger earlier this year, blaming senior government officials for interfering in the office’s investigations.
One director of investigations also told the CJI that it was accepted policy to make no criticism of the PSNI/RUC’s notorious intelligence unit, the Special Branch.
Recommending that the ombudsman should be suspended, the CJI report concluded:
“What is clear from the inspection is the flawed nature of the investigation process of historical cases which seems to be buffeted from a number of different directions, leading to a lack of confidence of many of those involved in the process, including some investigators themselves, victims’ families and their representatives and the police.
“The way in which the office is dealing with the investigation of historic cases has led to a lowering of its operational independence.”