Belfast Telegraph

Police Ombudsman won’t step down despite severe criticism in leaked report

By Liam Clarke

Al Hutchinson was last night brushing off demands for his resignation as Police Ombudsman.

The former Canadian Mountie was under intense pressure following the leaking of a damning report into his performance from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI).

“Al is not considering his position. Far from it; he is preparing a response to the report and its recommendations,” said a source in the Police Ombudsman’s office (PONI).

He added that Mr Hutchinson intended setting out his case at a meeting of the Stormont justice committee, which is currently scheduled for September 8, but may now be brought forward.

Last night Sinn Fein and the SDLP led the calls for him to go, saying that his independence was fatally undermined. British Irish Rights Watch, a human rights body, also called for the resignation of Jim Coupland, Mr Hutchinson’s senior director of investigations.

The draft CJI report, leaked to The Detail website, said that Mr Hutchinson had lost the confidence of senior staff and that reports had been rewritten to exclude criticism of the police.

Such concerns, which go to the core of public confidence in the police, became known in April when PONI chief executive Sam Pollock resigned citing interference in the Ombudsman’s work by the Northern Ireland Office, as well as a lack of independence.

The leaked CJI report found that investigators asked to be disassociated from reports they had worked on because their findings were changed. They also told CJI inspectors that key intelligence had been withheld from them.

The report adds to criticisms of Mr Hutchinson’s independence and leadership made in an earlier review of the Ombudsman’s role delivered to Justice Minister David Ford in June.

The latest CJI report said that there has been such a “lowering of independence” by the Ombudsman’s office under Mr Hutchinson that it should be suspended from investigating Troubles-related murders pending a complete review of its structures.

Mr Hutchinson is preparing a response. Although he disputes claims that he is not independent, he believes that the Ombudsman’s office is ill- equipped to deal with historic cases.

In 2009 he said that “the narrow focus on the police, to the exclusion of paramilitary groups and other State actors, along with my statutory ability to focus only on evidence and not information, means that the victims of those terrible times have expectations raised that I can seldom satisfy.”

Story so far

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) report is the third review to raise concerns over the effectiveness of the Police Ombudsman this year. Among the new criticisms are claims that Al Hutchinson has lost the trust of his senior investigators. In June an independent review said Mr Hutchinson's “weak leadership” undermined the effectiveness of the body. The Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) also questioned the independence of the Ombudsman’s office and accused the Northern Ireland Office of interfering in the appointment of Mr Hutchinson.

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