Belfast Telegraph

Nuala O'Loan slams Ombudsman on investigation of murders

By Anna Maguire and David Young

Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan has criticised her successor’s investigation into historical UVF murders.

Ms O’Loan criticised current ombudsman Al Hutchinson’s handling of a second investigation into murders carried by the UVF — and allegations of police collusion in the crimes.

Mr Hutchinson is leaving his post at the end of this month. His departure was hastened after questions were raised about working practices within his office.

On the eve of leaving her post in 2007, Ms O’Loan launched the Ballast report, an investigation into collusion between the RUC and the UVF in the murder of Raymond McCord jnr in 1997.

Several murders committed by informants working for Special Branch were also investigated.

However, five years later, an investigation by Mr Hutchinson into collusion appears to have made little headway. It follows a public storm after nine men were acquitted of the murder of UDA commander, Tommy English.

They included the alleged former UVF leader in north Belfast, Mark Haddock.

Speaking on the BBC’s Spotlight programme last night, Ms O’Loan said it was important that the Ombudsman worked as fast as the PSNI.

She said: “My belief is that the current Ombudsman is under the same statutory obligation as I was and that these matters should be investigated.

“If you have police officers who are handlers or controllers who may have committed crimes, that needs to be dealt with as a matter of priority.”

Meanwhile, it can be revealed that misconduct by former police officers re-hired by the PSNI as civilian staff could be investigated by the Police Ombudsman under proposed changes to the watchdog's powers.

Retired officers involved in incidents being probed by the ombudsman could be compelled to face questions if the Department of Justice's new proposals are introduced. The potential reforms outlined by Justice Minister David Ford may also rule out the possibility of a future ombudsman having a past background in policing.

The PSNI spends around £16m a year employing agency workers, so-called ‘associate staff’, many of whom are former officers.

The policy has provoked controversy, with critics claiming agency staff were not subject to the same levels of scrutiny as serving officers, such as ombudsman's probes.

In another matter of contention, past ombudsman investigations into incidents during the Troubles have been hindered by the inability to compel retired officers to attend an interview.

Both issues are among a series Mr Ford hopes to address in the reforms, which are out to public consultation. Mr Ford said the closing date for responses to the public consultation on the proposals is Friday June 8.

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