“Significant investigative failures” and evidence of “collusive behaviours” by police in relation to the murder of a teenager in west Belfast have been identified by the ombudsman.
The findings by Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson came following an investigation into the murder of Damien Walsh in 1993.
The 17-year-old was shot dead at the Dairy Farm complex on March 25 by members of the UDA/UFF.
The complex was under security force surveillance at the time.
No-one has been charged or convicted in relation to the attack.
Mrs Anderson said her office found no evidence that police were actively involved, had advance knowledge of the attack, or could have stopped the gunmen before the murder.
However, she said police failed to capitalise on a series of significant investigative opportunities, including failing to arrest suspects, not conducting searches of their homes and failing to ensure that important forensic inquiries were undertaken.
Mrs Anderson also identified “collusive police behaviours” such as failing to share important intelligence with the senior investigating officer (SIO) leading the murder investigation, and failing to advise him that the complex had been under security force surveillance.
The Police Ombudsman added that police made “a deliberate decision” to disregard intelligence about the threat posed by the so-called C Company of the UDA/UFF at the time.
She said that by stopping their surveillance of the group for an eight-day period starting three days before Damien’s murder, the RUC allowed the group to operate without the same “levels of constraint” that previously applied.
C Company murdered two people and attempted to kill two others during this period. Mrs Anderson said the RUC’s failure during this time to reassess the decision to remove surveillance on the group “constituted collusive behaviour”.
The findings are set out in a 108-page report which deals with the issues raised by Mrs Walsh, who expressed concerns about the police investigation and alleged collusion between police and the murderers.
Mrs Anderson found that Mr Walsh was “the innocent victim of a campaign of terror mounted by Loyalist paramilitaries against the Nationalist community”.
“The UDA/UFF alone were responsible for Damien’s murder. However, I have identified investigative failings and gaps as well as collusive behaviours by police which I believe failed both Damien and his family,” she said.
The original police investigation was carried out by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) which has since been replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
Victims group Relatives for Justice, which support the Walsh family, welcomed the report.
“Relatives For Justice welcomes this report and is particularly pleased for the Walsh family that their campaign for information has been vindicated,” a spokesperson said.
“They have asserted that collusion was involved in the case, and this has been confirmed by the report.
“Damien’s mother, Marian, has waited stoically for 17 years and RFJ pays tribute to her fortitude and dignity as well as that of the wider Walsh family.”
Responding to the Ombudsman’s report, Assistant Chief Constable Jonathan Roberts said: “Damien Walsh was an innocent young man killed by a despicable act of terrorism.
“The pain of such a grievous loss does not fade and I am acutely aware that today will be very upsetting for the family. My thoughts are with them.
“The Police Service will now carefully consider the Police Ombudsman’s report with a view to identifying appropriate next steps.”