Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland police 'did more for human rights than any NGO'

Our front page on June 11
Our front page on June 11

By Staff Reporter

Police officers in Northern Ireland "did far more for human rights than any NGO or armchair critic ever did", Amnesty International UK has been told.

In a five-page letter to Amnesty UK chief Kate Allen, Raymond Fitzsimons - chairman of the NI Retired Police Officers Association (NIRPOA) - took the non-governmental organisation (NGO) boss to task over its criticism of police here.

"Support for the victims of terrorism - including the Loughinisland families - came from the police officers who put their lives at risk to protect the community and to investigate crimes," Mr Fitzsimons wrote.

"Regrettably, the fact is that they were not always successful in their endeavour.

"But they did far more for human rights in Northern Ireland than any NGO or armchair critic ever did."

NIRPOA's chairman accused Amnesty of having "held out or reinforced misplaced and hopeless expectations among a group of people who have surely suffered enough already".

"We cannot speak for the PSNI, but we are sure that they would still take any and ever opportunity to bring the killers to justice," he added.

It's the latest salvo in a war of words that erupted between the two groups after two journalists were arrested over the alleged theft of a Police Ombudsman (PONI) document.

It appeared in their film No Stone Unturned about the UVF's 1994 Loughinisland massacre.

But the case against Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey was dropped after Belfast High Court ruled that search warrants used by police to raid their homes and offices were unlawful.

A day before the court hearing, Amnesty's Northern Ireland programme director, Patrick Corrigan, had suggested that "police were helping killers evade justice".

NIRPOA had then called on Amnesty to retract the "highly offensive" comments, describing them as "wholly unfounded" and a "slur".

But Amnesty said it fully supported Mr Corrigan. And in her response, Ms Allen wrote that "the report by the Police Ombudsman into the Loughinisland massacre noted that there was, undeniably, significant wrongdoing by the RUC following the murder of six innocent men by the UVF in 1994".

But Mr Fitzsimons wrote: "Amnesty international may fully support these remarks, but they have made no attempt to justify them in the light of the specific criticism and questions which were raised by the NIRPOA."

And in the latest letter to Amnesty, NIRPOA asks: "Where does Amnesty International UK obtain the authority to contradict both the PONI and the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to criminal charges?

"'Significant wrongdoing' in relation to the murder of six men should be adjudicated in the courts, yet NI Police Ombudsman and the DPP agreed that there was no evidence on which to base any prosecution of any police officer, serving or retired."

The letter accused Amnesty of basing its position "on 'facts' which have never been established".

The NIRPOA letter concludes: "We most certainly do not wish to compete in any way with the Loughinisland families in relation to their status as victims.

"Many of our own members are the victims of terrorism, whether through the loss of loved ones or colleagues or through bearing permanent physical or mental scars as a result of their service to the community.

"We do however say that the current arrangements for dealing with legacy issues have led to manifest injustices to our members and their families, and to the memory of deceased colleagues.

"Perhaps Amnesty International UK would like to take up our cause - to assist the citizen against the power of the state?"

NIRPOA represents 3,500 retired members of the RUC and the PSNI. Amnesty had not responded to a request for a response by time of going to press.

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