Belfast Telegraph

Police ombudsman accused over title

The police ombudsman's decision to hold on to his title - despite surrendering his powers and salary - was unnecessary, Martin McGuinness has said.

Al Hutchinson, who has faced long-standing demands to resign over criticisms of his term in office, will leave his desk in February and return to his native Canada.

He passed his powers to colleagues, but claimed that legal advice said he had to hold on to his title and remain available to the office on an unpaid basis, until a new ombudsman is appointed.

But Mr McGuinness revealed that legal advice provided to the Stormont authorities suggested the move was unnecessary. The deputy First Minister confirmed that interviews for a new ombudsman will be held next month.

"On January 17 the outgoing Police Ombudsman announced his intention to delegate his statutory functions to appropriate levels within his office pending the appointment of a new police ombudsman," said Mr McGuinness.

"He also announced that he did not intend to resign formally until the new police ombudsman was appointed. This is the third position on the timing of his resignation which Mr Hutchinson has adopted since last September. His latest position was on the basis of legal advice which he has received.

"His legal advice differs from that provided by the Attorney General to the Department of Justice which we have seen and which confirmed to our satisfaction that the office of the Police Ombudsman can continue to function during the vacancy."

Meanwhile, former senior civil servant Colin Lewis was last week confirmed as interim chief executive until a new leadership team is put in place in the ombudsman's office. Mr Hutchinson announced his intention to quit following a report which identified significant failings in the work of his office.

Former chief executive Sam Pollock resigned last March and said he was unhappy with the approach taken in controversial cases and also claimed the independence of the office from police and government had been diminished.

A report published in September by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate concluded that there "has been a lowering of the operational independence"" of the office in the way it conducts investigations into historical cases.


From Belfast Telegraph