Belfast Telegraph

Hutchinson 'could quit earlier'

Stormont leaders could hasten Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson's exit from office by hiring his successor without delay, the Assembly has been told.

The embattled ombudsman, who has been under heavy criticism for his handling of historic cases involving alleged police misconduct, has announced he will step down next June.

During a heated Assembly debate on restoring confidence in the independent police watchdog body, Justice Minister David Ford said Mr Hutchinson would be prepared to leave earlier if a successor was in place.

With a number of senior officials having departed the office in recent times, Mr Ford said it could not run properly if it was left without an ombudsman.

"There has been much debate about when Al Hutchinson should resign," he said. "Let us be clear and let us be practical - an office with no ombudsman, no permanent chief executive and no senior director of investigations present would not be a properly functioning office."

He added: "I do not believe that makes sense and I question those who believe it does, whatever their misgivings about historic cases.

"The process of appointing a new ombudsman is one for the first minister and the deputy first minister. I wrote to them last week in the light of their responsibility in respect of the process and the necessity of proceeding with it as soon as possible.

"I also made clear in my correspondence to them that the appointment process should not be delayed in order to allow time to address the wider concerns that currently exist with the ombudsman's office."

Earlier this month Mr Hutchinson told the justice committee he would leave his post next year.

But he faced calls at the time to quit immediately after the latest in a series of damning reports said he had lost the trust of senior colleagues and that his watchdog organisation was divided and dysfunctional.

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