“POLICE OMBUDSMAN MUST GO NOW”: HUMAN RIGHTS N.G.O.s
Date: 20 October 2011
Three top human rights groups, British Irish rights watch (BIRW), the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), and the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC), today issued a statement saying that Al Hutchinson, the discredited Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland should resign immediately.
Speaking on behalf of all three groups, Jane Winter, Director of BIRW, said:
“In light of recent developments, we reiterate our call for the Police Ombudsman to resign immediately. Public confidence in his ability to put right the problems he himself created is non-existent, and his continuing presence is bringing his office into disrepute and hampering desperately needed reform of the process for investigating historical cases involving the police.”
Paul O’Connor, Project Leader of the PFC said:
“Terrible harm has been done to families, such as the Daltons and the victims of the McGurk’s Bar bombing, by the shocking revelation that OPONI reports were being vetted by the PSNI.
“Al Hutchinson’s description of legacy cases as ‘toxic’ has added insult to injury. His announcement that he will stay in office until 31st May 2012 has plunged his office into a prolonged and calamitous crisis. He should go now and make way for others to rebuild oversight of policing in Northern Ireland.”
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, added:
“In response to the avalanche of criticism about the performance of the Police Ombudsman in relation to historic cases, some commentators have suggested that the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), set up by the PSNI, take over responsibility for investigating such cases.
“The Police Ombudsman only deals with historic cases where there are credible allegations of police misconduct in the case of an unlawful death, whether those allegations relate to the killing itself or the investigation of it. The fact is that it would be unlawful for the HET to investigate such cases.
“In the recent case of Re McCaughey and Others the UK Supreme Court held that, under the Human Rights Act 1998, any investigation held into an unlawful death, even if it occurred before the Act came into force, must be compliant with Article 2 (Right to Life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“In order to comply with that article, an investigation must be independent of those it investigates. The HET was set up by the PSNI and reports to the Chief Constable. It is not therefore independent of the police and cannot carry out an effective investigation into cases involving alleged state collusion.
“The solution does not lie with the HET, but in reform of OPONI, and that process should start now with the Ombudsman’s immediate resignation.”
– ENDS –
Notes For editors
1.British Irish RIGHTS WATCH (BIRW) is an independent non-governmental organisation that has been monitoring the human rights dimension of the conflict, and the peace process, in Northern Ireland since 1990. Its vision is of a Northern Ireland in which respect for human rights is integral to all its institutions and experienced by all who live there. Its mission is to secure respect for human rights in Northern Ireland and to disseminate the human rights lessons learned from the Northern Ireland conflict in order to promote peace, reconciliation and the prevention of conflict. BIRW’s services are available, free of charge, to anyone whose human rights have been violated because of the conflict, regardless of religious, political or community affiliations. BIRW take no position on the eventual constitutional outcome of the conflict.
2. The Committee on the Administration of Justice is an independent non-governmental human rights organisation which works to ensure that the administration of justice is compatible with the highest international human rights standards. See www.caj.org.uk for more.
3. The Pat Finucane Centre is a non-party political, anti-sectarian human rights group advocating a non-violent resolution of the conflict on the island of Ireland. We believe that all participants to the conflict have violated human rights. The PFC asserts that the failure by the State to uphold Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”, is the single most important explanation for the initiation and perpetuation of violent conflict. It is therefore implicit to conflict resolution that Article 7 be implemented in full. The PFC campaigns towards that goal.
4. The Dalton case relates to the deaths of three Derry people (Sean Dalton, Sheila Lewis and Gerard Curran) on August 31st 1988 in an IRA booby-trap bomb in a flat in the Creggan estate. In 2005, the Dalton family asked the Ombudsman to investigate allegations that the RUC knew the flat had been booby trapped, but had decided to sacrifice the lives of three civilians to protect an informer. In 2008, the family was told a draft report upheld the substance of their complaint but in May 2010 were given a verbal account which totally contradicted the earlier conclusion. They are still waiting for a final report.
5. The McGurk’s Bar bombing took place on 4 December 1971 when an Ulster Volunteer Force bomb killed 15 people and injured at least 16 others. It was the single largest loss of civilian life in the conflict until the Omagh bomb in 1998. For many years, the bombing was blamed on the IRA and termed an “own goal”; in fact, it has been established that the bombing was the work of the UVF. The first report produced by the Police Ombudsman was delivered in July 2010. It contained factual errors and failed to grasp the chain of events which led to the bombing being wrongly designated as an IRA own goal. It found that, on the balance of probabilities the RUC had conducted a reasonably thorough investigation. It was this report which led to the discovery that OPONI was allowing the PSNI to vet its reports. The families were so incensed by the first report that they organised a press conference and denounced it. The Police Ombudsman was forced to withdraw the report and he publicly, and later privately, apologised to the families. The second OPONI report was produced in February 2011. It was considerably better than the first report, but came to a disappointingly weak finding of “investigative bias” on the part of the RUC, which is very mild criticism considering the catalogue of failings both his office and the HET uncovered, and given the devastating effects of those failures on the victims and survivors. This volte face created the opportunity for the Chief Constable of the PSNI, Matt Baggott, to reject the Police Ombudsman’s findings, a matter which is now the subject of a formal complaint to the Policing Board.
5. For further information, please contact:
Jane Winter, BIRW: 020 8772 9161, 07767 830500
Brian Gormally, CAJ: 02890 316000, 0770 348 6949
Paul O’Connor, PFC: 02871 268846, 07989323418