The Chief Constable has been accused of damaging the PSNI’s reputation over his refusal to apologise for the discredited RUC investigation into the McGurk’s bar atrocity.
Matt Baggott came under renewed fire yesterday from relatives and politicians after refusing to accept the full findings of a damning Police Ombudsman’s report.
Fifteen people died and 16 others were injured when a no-warning UVF bomb ripped apart the family-run pub in December 1971.
Al Hutchinson concluded the RUC probe into the atrocity had an “investigative bias” and was so focused on perceived IRA involvement that police did not investigate the attack properly. In response, Mr Baggott — who has agreed to meet bereaved families — expressed sympathy, but did not apologise. Angry relatives branded it unacceptable.
North Belfast MLA Alban Maginness said that while he had “immense respect” for Mr Baggott, the Chief Constable had been “badly advised”.
“He should have taken the example of David Cameron when the Bloody Sunday report came out and apologised immediately and without qualification,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this is damaging not only to his standing, but also to the standing and the reputation of the PSNI.”
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said: “Matt Baggott had, I think, an opportunity to apologise. The families showed absolute dignity in their presentation yesterday and to be slapped in the face by the present Chief Constable is an abominable and disgraceful way to behave.”
Chris McGurk, who lost three members of his family in the bombing, said: “In an era when David Cameron can apologise for Bloody Sunday, then it should not be beyond Mr Baggott to apologise in this instance. I would say to the Chief Constable that it’s not too late... you can put this right.”
In 2006, while head of Leicestershire Constabulary, Mr Baggott apologised when an undercover reporter uncovered racist and sexist attitudes among some of his officers. The Belfast Telegraph attempted to contact Mr Baggott but was told he was unavailable because of “long-standing operational commitments”.
In 1978 UVF member Robert Campbell was convicted of his part in the attack. While Mr Baggott said further prosecutions were unlikely, the PSNI yesterday denied that his comments meant the investigation was closed. A spokeswoman said “no investigation is ever closed whilst there remains the possibility of new evidence”.
Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said the RUC was so |focused on the idea that the IRA was responsible for bombing McGurk’s bar that it did not properly probe |loyalist involvement.
While this fell short of collusion — with no evidence suggesting the security forces had assisted those responsible — it prohibited an effective investigation from taking place.
Mr Hutchinson said the investigations had not been “proportionate to the magnitude of the incident” — one of the biggest losses of life in the Troubles until the Omagh bomb in 1998.