Families of Loughinisland victims vow to fight on as report into bar massacre rules out collusion
The families of the victims of the Loughinisland massacre have vowed to take their 17-year fight for justice to the British and Irish governments.
A decision to lobby the two governments comes amid frustration at a conclusion by the Police Ombudsman that there is no evidence to suggest police informers were protected from prosecution.
Although a long-awaited report released today by the ombudsman confirms a catalogue of failings in the RUC investigation, it states that there was insufficient evidence that the failures had resulted from collusion.
Six Catholic men were murdered and five injured when UVF gunmen opened fire inside the Heights Bar in the Co Down village on June 18, 1994.
A number of people have been arrested for questioning in relation to the attack, however nobody has been charged.
In 2006 the victims’ families asked the ombudsman to investigate concerns that there had been no effective investigation because police informants were implicated. They questioned why the killers’ getaway car, which was recovered intact just hours after the atrocity, was destroyed 10 months later.
In his report Al Hutchinson was critical of the police investigation saying that they lacked the “investigative diligence” and “commitment” to pursue all opportunities to bring those responsible to justice.
He concluded however, that although police had failed the families, he was satisfied that “no suspects were afforded protection as informants”.
The ombudsman found that the car used by the killers had been crushed 10 months after the event rather than being kept as evidence. But he could uncover no evidence that a car allegedly connected with the attack was stored at any time in premises belonging to a police officer or that it was destroyed for any corrupt purpose.
Other findings included:
- The initial actions of the police in responding to the shootings, crime scene management, vehicle recovery and forensic examinations were appropriate, despite minor failings in the recovery of a cartridge and bullet head. These did not undermine the subsequent police investigation.
- The initial administration of the major incident room and computer system was poor, with evidence of computer system flaws in linking separate incidents across police force boundaries, leading to investigative opportunities being missed.
- Individual failings included missing records and exhibits.
MP for the area Margaret Ritchie said the families will be frustrated by the report’s findings as there are many questions still to be answered.
She added that what seems to be “tantamount to collusion” is being seen by the ombudsman as “mere incompetence”.
“The families have been waiting 17 years for justice.
“As their public representative I will be going directly to the Irish government and the British Prime Minister seeking answers,” the SDLP leader said.
The families have demanded a meeting with the police ombudsman in light of his decision to rule out any collusion.
Mr Hutchinson said: “I had a lengthy meeting with the families earlier this week, and I presented them with my findings. They still firmly believe that there was collusion.
“I acknowledge their belief and while there is reason to be suspicious over certain police actions I consider there is insufficient evidence to establish that collusion took place. I listened to them very carefully and there are a number of issues, which they want to discuss with me further and we will do that in the coming days.”
The PSNI has insisted that police will continue their efforts to apprehend those responsible for the massacre.
Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, head of the PSNI’s crime operations, apologised to the victims for what the ombudsman described as “a lack of consistent focus” in the police probe.
He added: “There is a great sadness and frustration for all of us in policing that those responsible for this horrific crime have never been brought to justice.
“Police remain firmly committed to apprehending those responsible for these murders.
“Detectives have devoted significant resources to date to this review and our efforts to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion, where the guilty are made amenable, will continue.”