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McGurk’s massacre: Shock as report into Belfast terror blast is pulled

An official report into the 1971 McGurk’s bar massacre was dramatically withdrawn today after angry reaction from families of the victims.

Fifteen people, including three women and two children, were killed when when a UVF bomb exploded at the bar in north Belfast.

Relatives of some of the deceased said the conclusion of the report’s author, Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson, that the police investigation at the time was “reasonably thorough” was patently ridiculous.

Mr Hutchinson today pulled back from making his full report public and was making arrangements to meet the families.

“I am aware the relatives have concerns about aspects of the report and for that reason I have decided not to publish it until I hear those concerns in detail,” Mr Hutchinson said. A spokesman for Mr Hutchinson said the findings of the report “still stand” but the full document would not be released until the meeting has been arranged.

Patrick McGurk, whose father — also known as Patrick — owned the bar, said the Ombudman’s report could not go unchallenged.

Mr McGurk, whose mother Philomena (46) and four-year-old sister Maria were among the victims, argued the facts point to the “distinct possibility that the police investigation had not been thorough”.

His criticism came as the Stormont Home Affairs Minister at the time, John Taylor — now Lord Kilclooney — refused to apologise for declaring that the UVF bombing had been an IRA ‘own goal’.

The Ulster Unionist peer said that as a minister he “always stuck to the advice given to me by Home Affairs officials and there have been no developments on what they told me since”.

His comments came as the Police Ombudsman today delivered a report into one of the most notorious massacres of The Troubles. Mr Hutchinson found no evidence police colluded with the killers, but did conclude that senior RUC officers let the mistaken public belief that the IRA was responsible go unchallenged.

Lord Kilclooney told the Belfast Telegraph: “I didn't just make up my own opinions. It is almost 40 years ago and I am not going to disagree now with the advice given to me in good faith by officials.”

A short time after the bombing, acting on a Home Office briefing, he said the atrocity was an IRA bomb that exploded prematurely inside the bar. This theory compounded the grief of the families of victims as it suggested the bar was an IRA hotbed.

The Police Ombudsman was asked to investigate claims that the RUC briefed Lord Kilclooney with false information.

In today’s report the Ombudsman has rejected that allegation, as well as allegations of collusion and that police did not conduct a thorough probe into the bomb.

The Ombudsman report found no evidence police colluded with the loyalist killers. But it did conclude that senior RUC officers let the mistaken public belief that the IRA was responsible go unchallenged, Al Hutchinson added.

But the Ombudsman said there was no suggestion police did not conduct a thorough investigation.

Families of some of the victims have slammed the report, saying it displays “a casual disregard for the sensitivities of the victims”.

Relatives said the report suggested doubt remains about whether the UVF was behind the explosion, and that it “appears to ignore the fact that police knew, by 1977 at the latest, that the UVF were responsible for the bombing”.

“This was subsequently confirmed by the Historical Enquiries Team report of 2008 and a statement to Parliament. Instead the report appears to indicate that doubt remains in this area.”

Patrick McGurk, son of the bar owner, said: “My initial view is that it (the document) smacks of the police trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility for any wrongdoing or incompetence.”

Alex McLaughlin, whose father Thomas (55) died, said the review should return to the Ombudsman. He said: “This isn’t a report at all. The report should be handed back and he should look at it again and then bring us back a serious report that will give us closure. It took four years to get this and it doesn't cut any ice with me at all.”

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