Belfast Telegraph

RUC officers smeared by loyalist massacre report, court is told

By Sian Harrison

The Police Ombudsman had no legal power to publish "damning" findings of RUC collusion with loyalists who massacred six Catholic men, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for former officers claimed the watchdog report into the Loughinisland atrocity smeared their names without a proper chance to respond.

The legality of the published conclusions is the subject of a rehearing after a judge who heard the original case stepped aside to ensure bereaved relatives' confidence in the final outcome.

Raymond White, representing the NI Retired Police Officers' Association, is seeking to have the ombudsman's report quashed.

In June 2016 the Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said collusion between some officers and the loyalists was a significant feature in the murders. He found no evidence police had prior knowledge, but identified "catastrophic failings" in the investigation.

A challenge mounted by Mr White and Ronald Hawthorne, a former sub-divisional police commander, resulted in a ruling last December that the report was procedurally unfair.

Mr Justice McCloskey said it failed to make clear the findings did not apply to Mr Hawthorne.

But lawyers representing the Ombudsman and victims' families argued that the judge should withdraw due to his role as a barrister in separate litigation 16 years ago.

Despite rejecting claims that he could be seen as unintentionally biased, Mr Justice McCloskey consented to a limited re-hearing in front of a judicial colleague.

As the fresh hearing got underway before Mrs Justice Keegan, it was stressed that the retired officers unequivocally support the function and role of Dr Maguire and his team in scrutinising police conduct and holding officers to account.

But David McMillen QC told the court his clients do not accept the ombudsman's power to investigate and publish conclusions in the way it did.

Barra McGrory QC, representing the Police Ombudsman, countered that the Police (Northern Ireland) Act gave his client the required statutory power to make the determinations contained in his public statement.

But Mr McMillen claimed everything had been "lumped in" as potentially criminal activity.

"What could be more explosive than when the Police Ombudsman promulgated this report and said there was collusion?" he said.

"The ombudsman was bound to know that was the only word picked up and repeated ad nauseam in the press and by certain members of the public who would be quite properly outraged by a finding that there was collusion."

Mrs Justice Keegan reserved judgment.

Belfast Telegraph

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