Belfast Telegraph

Report criticised force watchdog

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson saw his office's handling of sensitive cases from the Troubles, plus his leadership of the organisation, criticised in a report last week.

The Criminal Justice Inspection Report, released last week, was commissioned by Mr Hutchinson and was one of a pair of reports examining the work of his office. It took the significant step of recommending that the ombudsman suspend work on historic cases due to "the flawed nature of the investigation process".

The probe revealed that there was a "lowering of independence" in the ombudsman's office.

It also found that senior ombudsman officials asked to be disassociated from investigation reports, and reports into atrocities from the Troubles, including the loyalist paramilitary bombing of McGurk's bar in 1971 which killed 15 people, were redrafted with criticisms of the police removed.

One member of the ombudsman's staff said he believed there was an agreement for the office to remove criticism of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch in its reports, though no such corporate agreement was found to be in place, the probe found.

Among its other findings were: There were concerns that intelligence information was not being properly presented to ombudsman staff;

Assurances given by Mr Hutchinson over the provision of sensitive material were "not believed" by some senior managers;

"There have been serious divisions amongst senior management" affecting its work and staff morale.

The report, however, also said the ombudsman's office had largely succeeded in handling current police complaints, as opposed to those dealing with the past.


From Belfast Telegraph