Belfast Telegraph

Confidence restored in Ombudsman's office, says report

By Chris Kilpatrick

A major shake-up of the policing watchdog following scathing criticism of its handling of historic investigations has restored confidence in the body, a report has found.

An independent review into the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland was carried out 18 months after an earlier report paved the way for work on historical Troubles-linked cases to begin again.

Work by the Ombudsman on legacy inquiries was suspended following a 2011 probe that found the way in which the Ombudsman's office conducted its investigations compromised its independence.

One of the most damaging incidents was the Police Ombudsman investigation into the McGurk's Bar bombing of 1971 in which 15 Catholics were killed.

There was also concern over inquiries into atrocities at Claudy and Loughinisland, as well as divisions within the senior management team.

The CJI findings from that time cited a "flawed nature of the investigation process used in historical cases". In January of last year a report by the CJI said public confidence in the Police Ombudsman's office had been restored and work resumed on 150 unsolved murders linked to the Troubles.

Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said a series of new structures had been put in place to help deal with complaints about sensitive and complex cold cases.

His predecessor Al Hutchinson had been in charge when the 2011 findings were published and resigned early shortly afterwards.

A review found the independence of the office has been fully restored after recommendations were implemented by the Ombudsman.

"When CJI published the findings of its follow-up review in January 2013, I indicated a true assessment as to whether or not full independence had been restored could only be made after a number of public reports on historical cases had been published," said Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.

The chief inspector indicated inspectors found cases examined had withstood both internal and external challenge.

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