Loughinisland at the heart of battle over policing

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Families of those killed in a notorious loyalist/Crown force massacre have welcomed a judge’s decision to dismiss a legal challenge against the Police Ombudsman’s finding that the police colluded with the killers.

Relatives of six Catholic men shot dead by the UVF in the County Down village of Loughinisland in 1994 said the judgment had restored “justice and dignity” to their loved ones.

Mrs Justice Keegan dismissed an application by two retired police figures that had sought to quash a report into the Loughinisland shootings. She held that the Police Ombudsman had not acted outside his statutory powers in declaring that Crown force collusion was a feature of the case.

The judgment marks a major milestone in a long and complex legal battle over the ombudsman’s findings on Loughinisland.

In a landmark 2016 report, Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire found that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police colluded in the UVF gun attack.

Two loyalist gunmen burst into the Heights Bar and opened fire on locals watching the Ireland play Italy in the World Cup. Six Catholic men were killed, five others were injured.

Outside Belfast High Court, Emma Rogan, whose father Adrian was among the dead, welcomed the outcome.

“This is massive. It’s majorly important that this judgement has been heard and that it has gone the way it has. The Police Ombudsman has such a significant role to play in policing.”

Ms Rogan said Justice Keegan’s decision on Thursday that the Ombudsman did have the legal authority to make a finding of collusion had paved the way for other families to pursue justice through the Ombudsman.

She said it had been a “long difficult road” for the families following a series of legal delays and diversions.

“It’s not easy to come here and hear about the death of your loved one over and over again and be argued out in a court room,” she said. “So today that has been put to bed hopefully and justice has been done and dignity has been restored to their memory.”

JOURNALISTS’ HARASSMENT CONTINUE

But a separate effort to continue the Loughinisland cover-up saw a bizarre scene play out at a police base in Belfast.

Two journalists had been summoned there as part of bail requirements on charges relating to the “theft” of information from the office of the Ombudsman. It is alleged the material was used for their ‘No Stone Unturned’ film. The charges were discredited when the Ombudsman said no theft had been reported, but the ‘investigation’, and draconian bail conditions, remain intact.

Trevor Birney and fellow documentary maker Barry McCaffrey branded the process a “complete farce”.

The award-winning reporters were arrested in August. Police from Durham in England carried out the arrests in an apparent attempt to distance the PSNI from the action, but were notably absent from Musgrave PSNI barracks.

“I think this is quite clearly punitive and an attempt to try to restrict both myself and Barry and the work that we are trying to do and I think it’s just been another very frustrating day, not only for ourselves but for all our colleagues and for those we are trying to work for,” Mr Birney said.

Lawyer Niall Murphy said the probe was motivated by “paranoid hysteria” among PSNI commanders.

“Remarkably police have decided to continue with this farcical investigation,” he said.

“They have refused to take cognisance of the fact that there is no complaint.

“We have made representations that it is crystal clear that no offence has taken place and repeated the submission that the only investigation that should arise from the film No Stone Unturned is the murder of six men.”

He said an attempt had been made to increase bail conditions before they were reduced following legal representations.

“Not one Durham police officer dignified the custody suite with his presence today,” he said.

“... I think it’s remarkable, I think it belies the real situation here - that this is a PSNI-inspired police investigation.”

He added: “The police approach here has been conditioned by an intention to protect their own intelligence agenda and that has been sustained again today by the nonsensical continuation of bail for two professional journalists doing their best and presenting as exemplars of the local profession.”

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