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Ombudsman’s future in doubt as McGurk’s Bar report is delayed

By Noel McAdam

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson is facing questions over his future after being forced to postpone publication of an official report into the 1971 McGurk’s bar massacre.

The Ombudsman admitted yesterday he has never met with the relatives of those who died in the loyalist attack, which he now accepted was wrong.

And he said he also accepted the reputation of his office has been damaged.

The one-man ‘watchdog’ came in for severe criticism from relatives of some of those killed who challenged his decision to largely exonerate the police investigation into the UVF attack almost 40 years ago.

His office also confirmed the document contains errors, including names of some of the 15 victims of the 1971 attack, which until the Omagh bomb in 1998, was the single worst atrocity of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

It is also understood mistakes were made in some of the dates given in the report. A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman admitted: “We have identified some typographical errors which were not picked up during the process of producing the report.”

Angry families of some of the victims who were given advance sight of the report also attacked its conclusion that, on balance, the police investigation at the time had been “reasonably thorough”.

While a Press release containing the findings of the report was issued on Thursday, Mr Hutchinson decided to hold back on issuing the full report after hearing about the families’ concerns a few hours before it was due to be made public.

Fifteen people, including pensioners and two children, were killed when the UVF bomb exploded in the Catholic-owned pub

Allegations at the time that the explosion had been an IRA “own goal” added to the pain of the bereaved, partly because they implied some in the bar may have been paramilitary members.

Two years ago the then NIO Security Minister Paul Goggins apologised for the false claims made by Government officials at the time of the bombing, but there are now calls for Prime Minister David Cameron to also apologise to the families.

Mr Hutchinson, who is hoping to meet the families next week, said: “I have to hear from the families what the specific mistakes were.

“I am responsible for the conduct of the office and I think it's appropriate to acknowledge we didn't deal with the families very well and I need to listen to them personally and hear the specific concerns that they've raised.

“I have not met as yet the families. That is a mistake, which I accept. I simply read the reports of others.

“It was also a mistake not to give the families more time to read the report.

“So I've decided not to formally publish (it) until I've heard their concerns and assessed what they are. We should have discussed this in more detail. I wish that I had personally done that.

“But I would not be for resigning. I am in public service to put right what has been put wrong I wouldn't say it's an embarrassment, I take it as a learning opportunity — we must do better. We deal with evidence, not supposition and we want to discuss that with the families.”

Alex McLaughlin, whose father died in the bombing, said: “It's the proper thing to do for the Ombudsman to take this report back and have a look at it seriously. I'm highly delighted that this has happened and they've seen a bit of sense.”

Robert McClenaghan, whose grandfather was among the victims, said there were glaring errors, which included omitting the name of one of the dead and adding the name of one of the complainant families to the list of the dead. The Ombudsman’s spokesman said: “Some of the families have also outlined their concerns. We will be discussing these matters with them in the near future.”

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