It’s his first day, but the new Police Ombudsman already has a tough job to rebuild confidence
Northern Ireland’s new Police Ombudsman takes up his job today tasked with rebuilding public confidence in the office.
With little public fanfare, Dr Michael Maguire was appointed to the £128,000-a-year post following a lengthy period that saw the office mired in controversy.
It came after Al Hutchinson (right) stepped down in January following criticism of the performance of his office in three separate investigations — one of them conducted by Dr Maguire as Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).
He was asked to do so by Mr Hutchinson himself, and his report concluded the office was divided and dysfunctional and its independence had been compromised in the wake of complaints from its former chief executive Sam Pollock that his independence had been limited.
Dr Maguire told Assembly Members on the justice committee that the Ombudsman’s investigations into historic cases were compromised by emerging findings being revealed while work was not finished.
He made clear the problems in the office sprang from three historic inquiries into terrorist attacks during the Troubles — Claudy, Loughinisland and McGurk's bar, which between them accounted for 30 deaths.
Dr Maguire also told MLAs that if he had a current complaint against the police, he would not hesitate to bring it to the Ombudsman's Office for investigation.
DUP Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said: “It is important this Ombudsman respects the work of the RUC and recognises the difficult circumstances in which those officers worked.
“Indeed, it would be the DUP's view that the Ombudsman should concentrate on overseeing, where necessary, the PSNI, and let the Historical Enquiries Team deal with the events of the past.”
Sinn Fein Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said he wished Dr Maguire well “in what will be undoubtedly a difficult and challenging endeavour”.
“What Sinn Fein expect from a new Ombudsman is to return the credibility and reputation to this important office,” he said.
SDLP Policing Board member Conall McDevitt said: “He has considerable challenges ahead of him, the biggest of which will be restoring public confidence in his office and establishing credibility, especially around legacy cases.”
Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Ross Hussey said: “Dr Maguire brings a wealth of experience to his new post, and I wish him well in his efforts to restore public confidence in the Ombudsman's Office following the criticism which has been directed at it in recent times.”
Inspectors examined a number of historical cases in which the Ombudsman was asked to investigate allegations that the RUC had failed to properly investigate murders during the Troubles.
They described the investigative processes as flawed and said inspectors found that a number of reports — including the one on McGurk's — had been altered before publication to reduce criticism of the police, with no explanation.
“Inspectors could not find any supporting rationale for the changes other than the differing interpretation of sensitive intelligence material,” it added.
Dr Michael Maguire, who is in his early 50s and from Belfast, was the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) when he was appointed Police Ombudsman. He had worked at Criminal Justice Inspection for four years, and before that was a partner in a consulting firm. He was also involved in a number of strategic and organisational reviews across the public sector, and was chairman of the Institute of Directors in Northern Ireland between 2004 and 2006.