Pub bomb bereaved criticise Baggott
Families bereaved in a pub bombing have threatened to take legal action against the PSNI's chief constable over his refusal to accept that investigating police officers were biased.
A probe by the independent Police Ombudsman into the 1971 McGurk's Bar atrocity in Belfast found detectives adopted an "investigative bias" by claiming the attack was committed by republicans when in fact loyalists were to blame.
Chief Constable Matt Baggott was criticised by relatives of the 15 dead when he stopped short of supporting that finding earlier this year, pointing out that other reviews had provided different interpretations of the officers' motivation.
The families had urged him to rethink his position but at Thursday's monthly meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board he made clear he was not going to change his mind, insisting there was not the evidence to definitively prove bias.
His stance provoked an angry response from the relatives in the public gallery. "We certainly will be talking to our legal counsel on this matter and taking it further," said Pat Irvine, whose mother Kitty was one of the victims. I am extremely angry, this has been going on for 40 years, the truth has to be told, it is the truth that will set us free and build a better future for our loved ones, for our children and our children's children."
It is understood any challenge would come in the shape of a judicial review on whether Mr Baggott has the legal right not to accept the findings of the Ombudsman's office.
The bombing was carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force, but had initially been presented by the Royal Ulster Constabulary as an accidental "own goal" by the IRA, prompting speculation that the dead may have included IRA members who were carrying the device. The bereaved families, who said they had lived with that stigma ever since, welcomed the Ombudsman's report as delivering the vindication they demanded, but claimed Mr Baggott's response has only added to their grief.
With relatives holding placards with their loved ones' faces on them while seated behind him in the gallery, Mr Baggott said the report by Ombudsman Al Hutchinson differed from previous cases as it asked him to personally acknowledge the findings.
"It is incredibly rare for me to have to take a position like this," said the PSNI chief. The senior officer said he had to apply evidential tests to the material presented to him and, on that basis, he could not say there was definite investigative bias. He urged the families to accept this was an issue they should "agree to disagree on".
Mr Baggott said he unequivocally backed the findings that the victims of the bombing were innocent and he said the police failed in its duty of care.