Pressure grows on PSNI over disclosure failings to ombudsman

Pressure is growing on police in Northern Ireland after it emerged the service failed to disclose “significant information” relating to a notorious loyalist mass shooting.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire found that “significant, sensitive information” around a mass shooting at a bookmakers in south Belfast was not made available to his investigators.

His office said the material in question has opened new lines of inquiry in its investigation into the Ormeau Road shootings, as well as activities of loyalist paramilitaries in the north-west between 1988 and 1994; and its investigation into the murder of teenager Damien Walsh at a coal depot in west Belfast in 1993.

Reports outlining the findings of these investigations, which had been due to be published in the coming weeks, will now be delayed.

Dr Maguire has contacted the Department of Justice to ask that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) faces a review of how it discloses information.

Five people were killed on February 5 1992, when members of the Loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) opened fire on the Sean Graham bookmakers shop on the lower Ormeau Road.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin has apologised on behalf of the police, and said they never sought to withhold the information from the ombudsman investigators, putting the incident down to human error.

He has also offered to give Ombudsman investigators “full and unfettered access” to police legacy systems.

Marian Walsh with Relatives For Justice case worker Mary McCallan
Marian Walsh with Relatives For Justice case worker Mary McCallan

However Marian Walsh, the mother of teenage murder victim Damien Walsh, said she does not accept his apology, and accused police of a “sham” and “excuses”.

“How come one person was able to find it and yet all these other ones couldn’t,” she questioned.

Relatives for Justice, a victims’ group which represents many of those affected by the material, has backed Dr Maguire’s call for a review, and said it should begin as a “matter of urgency”.

Democratic Unionist MLA Mervyn Storey said Northern Ireland’s Policing Board has written to PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton asking for a detailed report into the incident, and that a committee of the board will be examining what happened.

“It raises a number of issues in relation into how the police actually process a lot of material, and we are talking here about millions of pieces of information,” he said.

“I think it’s to be welcomed the fact that police have taken the proactive stance they have taken with regards to asking the Ombudsman to come in and have access to those processes, but clearly there is an issue with regards to how this information is processed within the police service.”

Damien Walsh
Damien Walsh

However he shied away from calling for a review or inquiry into the matter.

“Let’s remember the PSNI is one of the most scrutinised police services in Europe, it had a variety of organisations that look into it and investigate it. I think what we need to do is to ensure police have the resources to be able to do what needs to be done to manage and process this information,” he said.

“The Policing Board and the Ombudsman are there in terms of oversight bodies. In terms of a review, that is an issue for police.”

The SDLP has called for an inquiry, with MLA Dolores Kelly saying it “staggers belief” that this information wasn’t disclosed.

“Of course the Chief Constable and other police commanders responsible should appear before the board. The Policing Board needs to do much more.

“For that reason I will be tabling a motion for the Policing Board to request a full report from the Chief Constable about the situation and that the board should conduct a proper inquiry into what has transpired,” she said.

The revelations that the police failed to disclose key information to investigations by the Police Ombudsman into dozens of killings by loyalist death squads is appalling and unacceptable.We have sought urgent meeting with Chief Constable and will meet with the Ombusman

— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) February 14, 2019

Meanwhile Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said it is not enough for the PSNI to say they are sorry.

“This is a revelation which has shocked right across the victims and survivors community,” he said.

“I don’t think it is enough for the PSNI to say they are sorry.

“Confidence in policing is diving to its lowest level in many years. Immediate action is needed.”