05/09/2011

Police Ombudsman To Quit 'Toxic' Position

A "vendetta against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) has created a situation that will be toxic for whoever holds the position of Police Ombudsman", says the DUP Chair of the Justice Committee, Paul Givan.

He said that a vengeful campaign is being waged against the RUC's name with a new report slamming the independence of the Police Ombudsman's office over its handling of historical cases only the latest chapter in a concerted attempt to blacken the name of the former NI police force.

Mr Girvan was responding to the publication of a report into the Police Ombudsman's Office and commented that the Office should focus on issues surrounding current policing - and that powers to investigate events which occurred during the Troubles should be removed.

However, on foot of that any other criticism, the Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson has since said he is to quit his job earlier than planned following the publication of this highly critical report.

Mr Hutchinson was due to leave the position in just over three years time, but told the BBC at lunchtime: "I acknowledge that personal attacks on me, criticisms, are becoming dysfunctional in their impact in the office and I have reflected on that and I have taken a decision," he said, adding that the details will be announced at the pending Stormont Justice Committee meeting on Thursday.

The DUP politician and Justice Committee Chair Paul Givan's earlier assertion that the position was 'toxic' has therefore been proved dramatically correct.

The Lagan Valley DUP MLA was commenting after the report highlighted concerns involving the handling of sensitive material and divisions within senior management.

The Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson commissioned the report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in person after the BBC revealed that the Chief Executive of his own office had resigned and criticised how business was done.

Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said the report's findings raised significant concerns about historical cases.

"Significant concerns were identified around how sensitive, complex and high-profile historical cases are currently investigated and handled," he said.

"The inspectorate believes that the ways in which the Police Ombudsman's office has dealt with these cases has served to undermine rather than enhance its decision-making capacity.

However, speaking today - before news of the Ombudsman's early departure - Paul Givan said: "The real issue that needs to be addressed in light of this report are the responsibilities and remit of the Ombudsman's Office.

"The Office was established in order to provide scrutiny and accountability of policing here and this should be the role fulfilled by the office; not carrying out a review of historical events.

"Dealing with the past in Northern Ireland is a highly sensitive topic and it is a highly politicised issue.

"A review should be initiated to consider removing powers from the Ombudsman's Office to investigate historical events into policing that took place during the terrorist conflict.

"Instead of attempting to duplicate the work of the Historic Enquiries Team (HET) it would be better if the Ombudsman's office were able to spend the resources they have available investigating current complaints more efficiently," he said.

Going further, he said that a "vendetta [was being] waged by some politicians and political parties against the Royal Ulster Constabulary".

"This has created a situation that will be toxic for whoever holds the position of Police Ombudsman if the current situation is allowed to continue.

"Those involved in this vendetta need to cease from their reckless behaviour," he insisted, this morning, adding that, in light of the work by the HET investigating every murder that took place during the terrorist conflict, the Police Ombudsman should focus on dealing with the current activities of the PSNI."

He added that the Ombudsman will be appearing at the Justice Committee on Thursday where members will have an opportunity to put their questions directly to Mr. Hutchinson.

Also commenting, the Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson Stewart Dickson MLA has expressed concerns about the findings of the report published today by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate on the Police Ombudsman's Office.

Stewart Dickson MLA said: "This is a robust and thorough report, and I look forward to discussing it with the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Dr Michael Maguire at the Justice Committee on Thursday.

"I am concerned at the nature of the findings and it is vital that action must come following the publication of this important report.

"It is of paramount importance that people can have total confidence in the Police Ombudsman's Office. The public needs to be reassured that Al Hutchinson will be able to implement all the recommendations from this report.

"The organisation has a very important role and people must be able to have confidence in its work and operation," he said.

Party colleague and Justice Minister David Ford has said that he is committed to ensuring that action is taken to ensure that all aspects of the work of the Office of the Police Ombudsman can command public confidence.

The Alliance party Leader said: "This is a complex and detailed report that raises a number of important issues.

"People need to be confident that the Office of the Police Ombudsman is able to hold the police to account in an impartial, independent and robust way.

"This report, and the recent report by Tony McCusker, highlight a clear need for action to ensure the Office of the Police Ombudsman can command public confidence in all areas.

"I am committed to ensuring that the issues that need to be addressed are examined and resolved speedily," he said, adding that he will attend the first meeting of the Justice Committee on 8 September to discuss the report in more detail and the next steps.

Sinn Fein's Policing Spokesman, Gerry Kelly said: "The buck stops with Al Hutchinson and for public confidence in the Ombudsman's Office to be repaired, he needs to go and go now.

"Any delay in his resignation, as he seems to be proposing, will only cause more damage to the office and the publics' confidence in it."

(BMcC/CD)

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