Belfast Telegraph

Police Ombudsman 'should quit'

There were calls last night for the resignation of Northern Ireland's police ombudsman Al Hutchinson after a leaked report raised fresh questions over his office's independence.

There were calls tonight for the resignation of Northern Ireland's police ombudsman Al Hutchinson after a leaked report raised fresh questions over his office's independence.

Victims campaigners said the new findings heightened their concerns that allegations of police wrongdoing in killings from the Troubles may not have been fully probed.

A review carried out by the Criminal Justice Inspection body is said to have made a series of damning discoveries, exposing divisions inside the ombudsman's office and raising fresh questions over its relationship with the police.

Human rights group, the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) said: "These weaknesses in process and leadership have led to a critical fall in public confidence in the office of the Police Ombudsman.

"Confidence in policing is significantly predicated on confidence in an independent and robust Ombudsman's office."

It added that "in view of this deteriorating situation" the Ombudsman should resign.

The group said: "We do not make this call lightly".

Mr Hutchinson has previously defended his office's independence against criticism.

A spokesman for his office tonight said it would not comment on a report which it believed was still in draft form.

It is understood the inspection report is with the Department of Justice but has yet to be published.

The PFC comments came after the Belfast-based investigative journalism group, The Detail, obtained the leaked report.

The renewed criticism of Mr Hutchinson follows complaints over his office by senior staff and by human rights groups.

The PFC said: "If today's claims accurately reflect the CJI's yet-to-be published report, they parallel our own experience of working with the current Police Ombudsman.

"Similar concerns were also included in the recent report published by the Committee on the Administration of Justice."

The PFC said its concerns included the "growing evidence of undue PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) influence on reports", plus the use of widely differing definitions of what constituted police collusion in crime, which varied across ombudsman probes.

It also said excessive delays in producing reports added to the grief of the bereaved.

The Detail, which published lengthy extracts of the leak on its website, said the draft report made a series of damaging findings, including a "lowering of independence" in the ombudsman's office, which should see its role in investigating historic murders suspended.

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