Loughinisland families tell of anger as judge deals blow to claims of police collusion
The daughter of a Loughinisland massacre victim said the "truth has again been suffocated" after a judge ruled that the Police Ombudsman had exceeded his powers when he declared that there had been collusion between RUC officers and loyalists.
Yesterday's ruling by High Court Judge Mr Justice McCloskey came in a legal challenge brought by retired senior policemen Raymond White and Thomas Hawthorne against last June's report by the police watchdog on the 1994 murders.
Six Catholic men were shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries as they watched a World Cup football match in a pub in Loughinisland, Co Down.
The victims were Adrian Rogan (34); Patrick O'Hare (35); Eamon Byrne (39); Malcolm Jenkinson (53); Daniel McCreanor (59), and Barney Green (87).
Five others were wounded.
Last summer, Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire found that collusion between some RUC officers and loyalists was a significant feature in the murders.
However, Mr Justice McCloskey has now described Dr Maguire's findings as "unlawful and procedurally unfair."
He added that none of the officers accused of collusion had been given the protection of the due process of the law.
The judge found that the Ombudsman had gone beyond his statutory powers in reaching conclusions on the Loughinisland atrocity which are "unsustainable in law".
The decision on whether to formally quash the Ombudsman's findings will be taken at a hearing next month.
Dr Maguire last night rejected calls to step down.
Adrian Rogan's daughter, Sinn Fein MLA Emma Rogan, said she had been left "devastated" by yesterday's findings.
"Last Christmas, 2016, was the first Christmas since the atrocity whereby we felt that the truth had been set free and allowed to breath," she said.
"This judgment, which has been delivered four days prior to Christmas Day, has devastated us all.
"We feel that the truth has again been suffocated.
"We will study this judgment over Christmas and renew our efforts to defend the inconvenient truth, in the New Year."
Niall Murphy, solicitor for the Loughinisland families, said that the facts contained in the Police Ombudsman's report had not been challenged.
"This case was premised entirely on procedural grounds," he said.
"Ronnie Hawthorn and Raymond White did not challenge a single fact contained in the Police Ombudsman's report. The facts therefore remain as facts.
"None of these facts would have seen the light of day but for the Police Ombudsman's report, and the families are eternally grateful for the recovery of those facts."
South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said she was "deeply disappointed" by the verdict, as there could be "major implications for other Police Ombudsman reports".
"We have to wait to see what happens when Mr Justice McCloskey makes his final judgment in January, but this doesn't deny the fact that six men lost their lives in terrible, dastardly circumstances which caused unspeakable grief for their families, who still have not received justice," she said.
"Today's verdict has implications for other current and future Police Ombudsman enquiries, for past reports and the entire area of legacy.
"The families feel that the Police Ombudsman's report provided them with the truth, and now that has been ripped away from them."
Mike Ritchie, advocacy manager of victims' group Relatives for Justice, said that the Loughinisland families were "pretty devastated" and that he believed there could be an appeal over Mr Justice McCloskey's findings.
However, he said that the families "absolutely do not feel that the Police Ombudsman should step down".
Sinn Fein South Down MP Chris Hazzard added: "There is a wealth of evidence already established regarding the scale of state collusion with the loyalist paramilitaries who carried out the Loughinisland massacre.
"And it's important to state that the judge didn't controvert any of the facts that were in the original Ombudsman's report."
Unionists called on Dr Maguire to consider his position.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We believe the Police Ombudsman is overstepping the mark in reaching definite conclusions about alleged collusion in cases where we do not believe such a conclusion is legally justified.
"We have also been concerned that retired police officers have had very serious allegations made in some of these reports and have not had the opportunity to properly defend themselves."
Adding that the Police Ombudsman should "not be involved in legacy cases", Mr Donaldson said Dr Maguire should "consider stepping aside".
Ulster Unionist policing spokesman Alan Chambers MLA also called for Dr Maguire to resign, describing his position as "untenable" and describing the High Court ruling as a "devastating blow to the credibility" of the Police Ombudsman's office.
He continued: "For the Police Ombudsman's Office to be the source of a report that has been so comprehensively rejected by the High Court should be a matter of huge embarrassment for the Ombudsman, and he should do the right thing and go now."
TUV leader Jim Allister also called on Dr Maguire to consider his position.
The Police Ombudsman's Office expressed disappointment at the High Court judgment.
A spokesman said: "We respect the judgment of the court, and are clearly disappointed. We will need time over the coming weeks to consider it carefully.
"As we look at the judgment in more detail we will examine all the options open to us, including an appeal.
"Clearly, however, we have to wait until the final outcome of the challenge.
"This judgment may have implications for how Northern Ireland deals with historical matters, affecting not only this office, but also proposed solutions such as the Historical Inquiries Unit."
Police Ombudsman Dr Maguire told the BBC: "I have an obligation as Police Ombudsman to those who have trusted this office with their complaints, and those are complaints from across Northern Ireland society and both sides of the community. I will not be considering quitting."