Ombudsman clears PSNI over Robert McCartney murder probe but family reject report out of hand
Police have been cleared of failings over their investigation into the murder of a man outside a Belfast bar.
Robert McCartney (33) was stabbed to death close to Magennis's pub in January 2005.
No one has been convicted of the murder despite attempted prosecutions and a high-profile campaign by the McCartney family.
The Police Ombudsman received a series of complaints about how the PSNI conducted the investigation, including that those responsible may have been informants shielded from justice.
But a report by Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire today concludes no one was protected during the investigation.
Mr Maguire said that while the McCartney family "may feel the justice system has failed them", there is no evidence police played any part in that failure.
However, Mr McCartney's sister Catherine last night voiced anger at the findings.
She said: "I never expected much anyway but I'm still disappointed. I don't accept the findings of the report.
"My main complaint was that I did not feel the police pursued witnesses as rigorously and vigorously as I could. Nothing in this report has changed my mind on that."
She said she was determined to continue the fight to secure justice for her brother.
"There's an awful lot of information I'd like to pursue, but we don't know yet how to do that," she added.
"The bottom line is that Robert hasn't got justice. The people and the evidence are still out there."
The father-of-two from Short Strand was stabbed by IRA members. A second man, Brendan Devine, was badly wounded.
With CCTV video tapes removed from the bar in the wake of the killing, and widespread reports of witness intimidation, the IRA was accused of a cover-up.
Of 70 people in the bar that night, no one reported seeing the fracas.
Dr Maguire said: The police investigation of events that night was complex, with what can best be described as some unique obstacles, including a reluctance by some witnesses to give evidence and concerns about the credibility of others.
"The detectives sought to work around these problems. Their investigation was detailed and comprehensive and resulted in three people facing trial.
"Having examined all the information carefully, I can assure them (the family) that the fact that no one has been convicted for the murder can in no way be attributed to the work of police in gathering evidence."
One complaint asked how it was possible for the bar area to be cleaned prior to police arriving, leaving little forensics.
The Ombudsman found that the police delay in going to the pub was not due to any inefficiency on their part. The victims had been discovered nearby and the priority for officers was the preservation of life.
His investigators established that the equivalent of three industrial bins of material was recovered and extensive DNA testing was carried out on blood matter.
They found that, despite allegations to the contrary, police interviewed the man alleged to have cleaned the bar.
It was also alleged that people were allowed to leave the scene without their details recorded.
Investigators confirmed that people left the bar prior to the arrival of police, who then ensured they got contact details for all those who were still present.
Investigators found that police had gone to "considerable lengths" to identify those who had been in the bar earlier, including conducting door to door inquiries and media appeals.
They did not find evidence to support a complaint that identification parades should have been held much sooner.
The issue of police efforts to find the origins and whereabouts of the knife used to stab Mr McCartney was also raised.
Investigators established that police interviewed several people and conducted an extensive search of drains, gulleys and roof tops over a wide area in their efforts to find the weapon.
They found no records which would support an allegation that police had received information about shoes with blood on them hidden in the home of a named individual.
Similarly, they did not find evidence which would support an allegation that one of the suspects was not interviewed properly, nor that two named individuals, nor anyone else, had been protected from prosecution because they may have been police informants.
The Police Ombudsman had some criticism of the PSNI and said the proper resourcing of the investigation team was challenging from the outset.
Dr Maguire added: "The work on telephone interrogations, for instance, was not as coordinated as it could have been. A designated telephone liasion officer should have been appointed, but all these officers were already assigned to the investigation of the Northern Bank robbery.
"Evidential opportunities may have arisen if there had been a more consistent approach to telecommunication enquiries."