Belfast Telegraph

Police ombudsman faith 'restored'

Confidence in the independence of the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman's Office has been fully restored, an external review has found.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) said it was satisfied that new systems put in place to deal with contentious historical cases were robust.

Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said: "The Office of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (OPONI) has an important role to play in providing independent oversight of policing in Northern Ireland, which in turn has an impact on public confidence.

"On the basis of the evidence reviewed by the independent inspection team, the inspectorate is satisfied the systems and process in place can withstand buffeting and challenge and the independence of the OPONI had been restored."

In September 2011, the CJI ordered a suspension of work on historical cases following the resignation of Al Hutchinson.

Mr Hutchinson, a Canadian, was criticised over his relationship with police and senior civil servants.

It was under his watch that the ombudsman's office was forced to produce a second, revised report on the murders of 15 people by loyalists at McGurk's Bar in Belfast in 1971.

The OPONI was only allowed to resume work on historical cases 18 months ago.

Mr McGuigan added: "When CJI published the findings of its follow-up review in January 2013, I indicated a true assessment as to whether or not full independence had been restored could only be made after a number of public reports on historical cases had been published.

"As this has happened, inspectors returned in July to carry out a further independent evaluation of the quality assurance processes."

CJI inspectors also found that the provision of sensitive material by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to the OPONI had worked in accordance with the agreed protocol.

Mr McGuigan said recent difficulties with the provision of classified documents in other historical cases had also been resolved.

Properly controlled communication with all interested parties and structured factual accuracy checks were also found to be beneficial.

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