Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Trust undermined by PSNI's data failings

'It is vital that all existing information is made available to the Police Ombudsman in his investigations into controversial killings otherwise there will be those - as evidenced today - who will suspect ulterior motives on the part of the PSNI' (stock photo)
'It is vital that all existing information is made available to the Police Ombudsman in his investigations into controversial killings otherwise there will be those - as evidenced today - who will suspect ulterior motives on the part of the PSNI' (stock photo)

Editor's Viewpoint

There will be some raised eyebrows following the revelation that police failed to disclose significant information to the Police Ombudsman investigating historic murders carried out by loyalist terrorists.

Yet there is no evidence that this was a deliberate attempt to prevent the Ombudsman finding out the whole truth about the slaughter of five men in the Ormeau Road bookmaker's massacre in 1992.

We therefore must accept the PSNI's explanation that the failure to pass on the information was due to the differing levels of experience and expertise of the researchers charged with finding the information, the sheer volume of information and outdated IT systems.

It has to be noted that the required information was found by another police researcher engaged on other work and then passed on to the Ombudsman. That would indicate that there was no deliberate attempt to cover up the information.

But it is also clear that the PSNI's information storage and retrieval systems are far from perfect. In this case the force had said the information did not exist until a huge cache of it was found.

As a result the Ombudsman now has new information on covert policing, the bookmaker's atrocity, loyalist paramilitary activity in the north west over an eight-year period, and also the murder of a Catholic teenager on the fringes of west Belfast.

Of course, the investigation of almost 3,000 unsolved killings during the Troubles is a mammoth task and there is no doubt that the original detectives were hampered in their probes by the sheer scale of the killings and their frequency, and that many records have been lost in bomb attacks on police stations.

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But it is vital that all existing information is made available to the Police Ombudsman in his investigations into controversial killings otherwise there will be those - as evidenced today - who will suspect ulterior motives on the part of the PSNI.

As well, it will mean that the Ombudsman will be drawing conclusions based on less than optimum information, and that will affect public confidence in his reports through no fault of his own.

In such cases well-intentioned efforts to furnish bereaved relatives with as much information on how their loved ones died will be frustrated and further pain heaped on people who have suffered too much already.

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