Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog 'had no right to publish atrocity collusion claim'

By Alan Erwin

The Police Ombudsman had no legal power to publish its finding that police colluded with loyalists who massacred six Catholic men nearly 23 years ago, the High Court heard yesterday.

Lawyers for two retired senior officers claimed that the watchdog's report into the Loughinisland atrocity should only have been released if it recommended either prosecutions or disciplinary action.

Raymond White and Thomas Hawthorne are seeking an order to have the findings quashed.

UVF gunmen opened fire at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down, as their victims watched a World Cup match in June 1994.

In June last year the Police Ombudsman, Michael Maguire, said collusion was a significant feature in the murders.

He found no evidence police had prior knowledge of the attack, but identified "catastrophic failings" in the investigation.

One of the suspects in the attack was an informer, according to the findings.

Police were also said to have been aware of a UVF gang operating in south Down and involved in previous murders.

But Mr White, a representative of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers' Association, and Mr Hawthorne, a retired chief superintendent and former sub-divisional commander in the area, are challenging the legality of the document.

Counsel for the pair, David McMillen QC, set out two statutory outcomes to any Police Ombudsman investigation triggered by a complaint - recommendations to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and referring the case to the Chief Constable for disciplinary proceedings.

He argued that the watchdog had no power to produce a report or come to a final determination outside that remit.

Responding on behalf of Mr Maguire's office, David Scoffield QC described the legal action as an attempt to significantly restrict the scope of the ombudsman's investigations.

He insisted his client had broad powers to operate under.

"Were he to simply act as a filter for criminal prosecutions or disciplinary proceedings, that would essentially neuter his office in any case where those results, for whatever reasons, were not possible," Mr Scoffield said.

Reserving judgment in the application for leave to seek a judicial review, Mr Justice Maguire pledged to give his decision as soon as possible.

Outside court Emma Rogan, whose father Adrian was among those killed, said the application had a "re-traumatising effect".

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