Belfast Telegraph

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson saddled with criticism

By Lesley-Anne Henry

He was seen as a safe pair of hands. He had an unblemished record, a steely reputation and slipped seamlessly into the £122,000-a-year job as Police Ombudsman. Al Hutchinson would not rock the boat.

As a Queen's University graduate, the former Canadian Mountie already had strong links with Northern Ireland. He had been based in Belfast since 2001 when he was brought in to monitor the implementation of the Patten policing reforms and transition of the RUC to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. He later took charge of the Oversight Commission after the retirement of Tom Constantine in January 2004.

At the time of his appointment former Secretary of State Peter Hain hailed his “impressive strong public record and extensive knowledge of policing issues in Northern Ireland”.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. While the authorities have no complaints about his performance, Al Hutchinson has failed to live up to many others’ expectations.

Aideen Gilmore, deputy director of the Committee on the Administration for Justice which produced yesterday’s damning report, said its research was prompted by concerns and “growing unease” among families, victims, legal representatives and human rights groups in relation to the Police Ombudsman’s handling of investigations, and reports into historic cases in particular.

And according to Mark Thompson from Relatives For Justice, there has been an increase in the number of people opting not to engage since Mr Hutchinson had taken over.

“The problem is that he is not standing up and facing down those people and exercising the independence and impartiality of that office,” said Thompson.

“And, the people that get the raw deal in this are the families. Quite a significant number don’t have confidence in the office.”

Mr Hutchinson was not available for interview yesterday.

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