The man charged with handling complaints against the police in the North of Ireland has said he may consider his position following the public release of the latest damning report into his handling of historic cases.
Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson, who replaced Nuala O’Loan four years ago, says he will consider resigning if remaining in office means that the “credibility and importance of this office is damaged”.
Mr Hutchinson has been severely criticised over his reports into atrocities such as the McGurk’s and Loughisland massacres which have fuelled allegations of a new cover-up by his office.
His position is now under pressure after findings by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate that he ordered the removal of criticism of police from investigations into a number of killings.
The CJI report branded the organisation’s management as “fractured”, “inconsistent” and “dysfunctional”. It uncovered a major split in the Ombudsman’s staff, and found that Hutchinson had lost the trust of many senior colleagues.
The document is the third report to have recently challenged Mr Hutchinson’s leadership, which first came under pressure when his chief executive Sam Pollock resigned over heavy British government interference in the office’s activities.
Despite overwhelming pressure on him to go, Hutchinson held out the possibility that he be allowed to remain in office until he turns 65. The Ombudsman said: “My planned departure date was December 2012 which is my 65th birthday.
“That is my benchmark, but if I become such an issue that the credibility and importance of this office is damaged, ultimately I will consider that (resigning earlier).” He added: “I am going to address this issue with the justice committee on Thursday.”
Sinn Fein’s policing spokesperson for the Six Counties, Gerry Kelly, has called on Ombudsman Al Hutchinson to resign without delay.
“This is the third critical report into the Ombudsman’s Office and it is an indictment of the leadership that Al Hutchinson has shown,” he said.
“Sinn Fein believe in the Ombudsman’s Office and that it is a crucial mechanism to make sure we have accountable policing. However with the independence of the office being yet again called into question the credibility of that office is at rock bottom.
“The buck stops with Al Hutchinson and for public confidence in the Ombudsman’s Office to be repaired, he needs to go and go now.
“Any delay in his resignation, as he seems to be proposing, will only cause more damage to the office and the publics’ confidence in it.
“Only his immediate resignation followed by the implementation of recommendations made by Nuala O’Loan in 2007 will suffice.”
BAGGOTT IN THE DOCK?
Meanwhile, relatives of those killed in the McGurk’s Bar bombing have threatened legal action against PSNI Chief Matt Baggott over his refusal to accept that investigating police officers were biased.
The report by the Police Ombudsman’s Office into the 1971 atrocity in north Belfast, issued only under heavy pressure from the families, found that the then RUC police adopted an “investigative bias” by claiming the attack was committed by the IRA, when in fact loyalists were to blame.
The bombing was carried out by the UVF but had initially been presented by the RUC and media establishment as an accidental “own goal” by the IRA, prompting the belief that the dead might have included IRA members carrying the device.
Mr Baggott was criticised by relatives of the 15 dead when he stopped short of admitting that there had been an anti-nationalist bias.
The families had urged him to rethink his position but at this month’s Policing Board meeting he made it clear that he was not going to change his mind, insisting there was not enough evidence of bias.
His stance provoked an angry response from the relatives in the public gallery at the board’s headquarters in Belfast.
“We certainly will be talking to our legal counsel on this matter and taking it further,” Pat Irvine, whose mother Kitty was one of those killed, said.
“I am extremely angry. This has been going on for 40 years. The truth has to be told. It is the truth that will set us free and build a better future for our loved ones, for our children and our children’s children.”