Belfast Telegraph

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson: I may step down from post

Watchdog chief to discuss future as report questions his independence

By Liam Clarke

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson says he will resign if it is shown that by remaining he would damage the integrity of the PSNI watchdog.

Mr Hutchinson has been severely criticised over his reports into atrocities such as the McGurk's bar bombing and Loughisland massacre.

The Ombudsman said: "My planned departure date was December 2012 which is my 65th birthday.

"That is my benchmark, but if I become such an issue that the credibility and importance of this office is damaged, ultimately I will consider that (resigning earlier)." He added: "I am going to address this issue with the justice committee on Thursday."

Mr Hutchinson was speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of the release of a damning report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate into his handling of historic cases.

The report is expected to conclude that:

  • The independence of historic investigations carried out by PONI has fallen since Mr Hutchinson took over from Dame Nuala O'Loan in 2007.
  • PONI reports into Troubles atrocities were changed to reduce criticism of the police.
  • Some senior staff disassociated themselves from the altered reports and some PONI investigators claimed that key intelligence had been withheld from them
  • There were major "inconsistencies" in PONI investigations of the RUC's handling of the Loughinisland, McGurk's and Claudy massacres, some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles which claimed a total of 30 lives.

The CJI report, commissioned by Mr Hutchinson, recommends that PONI should not deal with any more historic cases until the alleged deficiencies are addressed.

There are currently 127 such cases on its books.

Mr Hutchinson defended his record, but also argued that historic cases were "destroying" his office and that a dedicated body should be set up to deal with them.

Profile

As a Queen's University graduate, Al Hutchinson had strong links with Northern Ireland when he took up the post of Police Ombudsman in 2007.

The former Canadian Mountie was brought in to monitor the implementation of the Patten policing reforms and transition of the RUC to the PSNI in 2001. He later took charge of the Oversight Commission after the retirement of Tom Constantine in January 2004.

But his performance has come under fire in relation to the Police Ombudsman's handling of investigations and reports, into historic cases in particular.

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