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Police chief accepts 'bias' in initial RUC probe into bar bomb that killed 15

Published 01/12/2016

Children remove a baby's cot from the debris of McGurk's bar in North Queen Street, Belfast, where 15 people died in 1971
Children remove a baby's cot from the debris of McGurk's bar in North Queen Street, Belfast, where 15 people died in 1971

Northern Ireland's police chief has made clear he accepts there was bias in the initial investigation of a notorious bomb attack in Belfast that killed 15 people.

George Hamilton said he wanted to clarify the PSNI's position in relation to the McGurk's bar bombing in 1971.

The bombing was carried out by the UVF, but had initially been presented by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) as an accidental ''own goal'' by the IRA, prompting speculation that the dead might have included IRA members who were carrying the device.

A Police Ombudsman's report in 2011 said RUC officers had shown an "investigative bias" with the original misattribution of blame.

However, the PSNI's then-chief constable Matt Baggott refused to accept that particular finding by the ombudsman and a subsequent probe by the police's Historical Enquiries Team (HET) concluded there was no such bias.

Mr Hamilton said he had reviewed the case and, as a consequence, changed the PSNI's official position to accept the allegation of bias. The chief constable said he made the decision last year but the move may have been "missed in some quarters".

"I want to make clear the ombudsman's report in its entirety is accepted," he told the monthly meeting of the PSNI's oversight body, the Policing Board.

As the 45th anniversary of the outrage approaches, relatives of some of those killed attended the meeting in Belfast.

Mr Hamilton added: "If a false line of enquiry equates to investigative bias, on that basis I am accepting the language that the ombudsman chose to use to present that (initial RUC) hypothesis that turned out to be incorrect."

He said the HET report findings had been amended to reflect the change in position.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Hamilton was handed a copy of a military log uncovered by a grandson of one of the victims that indicated the bomb was planted in the doorway of the pub.

Relatives claim the document shows the authorities knew from early in the investigation that the bomb had been left at the doorway, rather than detonating in the possession of someone inside.

The police chief said he would examine the document and also assess a family request to gain sight of redacted information about the bombing.

But he said the facts contained in the log would not further police efforts to bring any more people to justice. A UVF man was convicted for his part in the attack in 1977.

"This is not pointing us toward a new suspect, new forensic evidence, a new line of enquiry, it's simply confirming what I have already conceded or accepted from the ombudsman's report - that in the early days of this there was a false hypothesis followed by the police," said Mr Hamilton.

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