Amnesty claim that police are helping Loughinisland killers evade justice angers officers' body
An organisation representing more than 3,500 retired officers has called on Amnesty International to retract "highly offensive" comments made ahead of a judicial review into a police raid on the homes of two Belfast journalists.
The row has erupted after comments a day before the hearing from Amnesty's Northern Ireland programme director, Patrick Corrigan, which suggested that "police were helping killers evade justice".
And the letter warns that "further action" will be considered if Amnesty UK fails to clarify its position.
A warrant authorising police raids on the homes and offices of investigative reporters Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey was quashed at Belfast High Court in recent weeks, with police directed to return the seized materials to the pair.
The two Belfast film-makers had been investigating the 1994 Loughinisland atrocity for their documentary No Stone Unturned.
The chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association (NIRPOA), Raymond Fitzsimmons, has written to Amnesty UK's director in London, Kate Allen, voicing concerns over what he said were "serious suggestions".
Concerns were also raised over what Mr Fitzsimmons calls a "highlighting" of the fact that police officers were armed during the raids.
But he added: "Much more serious however is the suggestion that police were 'helping killers evade justice'.
"The association would like to know whether this untrue and libellous slur represents the official position of Amnesty International UK.
"If it does not then we look forward to written and published confirmation that you reject Mr Corrigan's assertion.
"If however you are unable to do so, the association would like to know upon what basis this statement rests before considering our further action.
"You ought to be aware that an investigation by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) led to a report to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) concerning police actions before and after the Loughinisland atrocity and as a result of which both parties agreed that there was no evidence upon which to base a prosecution of any police officer for any offence in connection with this matter.
"Helping killers evade justice would constitute the gravest of offences, amounting to aiding and abetting murder, conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and so on.
"Without access to public funds or legal aid, this association has been obliged to take PONI to Judicial Review because of his improper and wholly unfounded public statements concerning Loughinisland. No legitimate inquiry or hearing based on due process has established any wrongdoing by any of the police who were involved in this case, let alone 'helping the killers evade justice'.
"The association now expects a full and public retraction by Amnesty International UK of the inaccurate and highly offensive remarks by Mr Corrigan."
NIRPOA, which has 3,500 members throughout Northern Ireland and further afield, represents the interests of retired members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross (RUCGC) and the PSNI as well as their families.
In the letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Fitzsimmons said members took further issue over Amnesty UK highlighting the fact that police were 'armed' during the raid on the homes and offices of the journalists.
"The article states: Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, said: 'This case is crucial to the freedom of the press in the UK. Journalists must be free to investigate issues of public concern without fear of arrest and imprisonment.
"When armed police are raiding the homes of journalists, while helping killers evade justice, there is something deeply wrong'.
"It is rather surprising that Mr Corrigan feels the need to state that the police involved in this matter were armed," said Mr Fitzsimmons.
"It is clear that such a reference is intended purely for the purpose of dramatizing the matter for any readers who may be unaware that a prolonged campaign of terrorist murders of police officers has made the routine but unwanted carrying of firearms a requirement of everyday policing in Northern Ireland. A court might describe such words as prejudicial rather than probative."
The PSNI has since dropped the investigation into the film-makers, and their seized possessions have been returned.
Six Catholic men were shot dead at Loughinisland, Co Down, after UVF gunmen opened fire in a village pub as their victims watched a World Cup football match in 1994.
Amnesty International UK said it had not yet received any correspondence from Mr Fitzsimmons and as such would not be in a position to comment.