Belfast Telegraph

Ombudsman offers to quit in January as Sinn Fein turns up heat

Northern Ireland's under-pressure Police Ombudsman has offered to leave his post in January, he confirmed last night.

Al Hutchinson had already said he would resign by June of next year after he came under pressure following damning reports into the work of his office.

A hard-hitting review by the Criminal Justice Inspection group branded management of the Police Ombudsman's office “dysfunctional”, uncovered a major split in its staff, and found Mr Hutchinson had lost the trust of senior colleagues. It cited Ombudsman reports where criticism of police conduct in some of the most controversial murder cases of the Troubles was removed without explanation, sparking angry attacks from the victims of violence. The controversy resurfaced in recent days when a TV documentary presented further criticisms of the police watchdog.

However, while Sinn Fein called for Mr Hutchinson to resign immediately, the DUP rejected the demands. Now Mr Hutchinson has written to First Minister Peter Robinson and acting Deputy First Minister John O'Dowd, who is standing in for Martin McGuinness while he contests the Irish presidential election, proposing that he bring forward his leaving date.

In a statement, Mr Hutchinson last night said he would “like the process of selecting a new Police Ombudsman to be expedited” to allow a January exit.

“While I have received expressions of support from a number of quarters, it is clear that there remains a focused campaign to have me resign immediately,” he said.

“This continues to damage the office, affect its independence and impact on its daily work.”

He said he had met with the Justice Minister David Ford and expressed his commitment to continuing the changes in his office proposed by the critical reports.

“It is important that there is a sound platform for the changes to support the exercise of the Police Ombudsman's functions and I want to do what I can to help deliver those changes,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly welcomed the announcement.

“I welcome that the date has been brought forward but obviously I would want him to go immediately, but January is much better than June.”

But UUP MLA Basil McCrea said the move would be problematic: “Day to day activity will be affected and the office is bound to be in turmoil,” he said.

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