PSNI 'Failed' Máiría Cahill Over Sex Abuse Allegations - Ombudsman

A new report has condemned the PSNI for failing a woman after she informed officers that she had been sexually abused by a senior member of the IRA.

In 2010, Máiría Cahill told police she had been sexually abused by Martin Morris from 1997 to 1998, when she was aged 16, and was later subjected to an IRA 'investigation'. Two other women also said they were abused by the same man.

In 2014, the trials of the man accused of the rape and of those accused of involvement in the IRA investigation collapsed when Ms Cahill and the two other women withdrew their evidence, citing a loss of confidence in how the matter had been dealt with.

In 2015, a review by Sir Keir Starmer found the Public Prosecution Service had failed the women. Ms Cahill also made a series of complaints to the Police Ombudsman's Office about the PSNI's handling of her report to them.

Now, a report by the Police Ombudsman has found that the RUC Special Branch had information about the alleged sex abuse of the woman 10 years before it was reinvestigated by the PSNI but did not act on it.

In addition, Dr Michael Maguire's office found the PSNI investigation had failed the victims. He also criticised the force's decision not to hold a serious case review and the circumstances of the choice to split its investigation across two units: one with expertise in terrorist cases and another specialised in dealing with victims of sexual assault.

"I accept that police wanted to move quickly on the sexual allegations and to use their different expertise to maximum effect," he said.

"While I do not agree that this led to evidence being diluted, it did bring about a disjointed approach by police in their investigations and their treatment of Ms Cahill.

"There is no evidence they considered any other approach, such as creating a team with the range of skills to investigate these matters as one case."

The Police Ombudsman found that the PSNI had an inconsistent approach in its investigation of some of the people suspected of IRA membership, which in one case led to an individual not being arrested and questioned. He found no evidence, however, that anyone had been protected from prosecution. Furthermore, Dr Maguire did not find evidence to support the allegation that the PSNI investigation became subject to adverse political interference.
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He said: "There is no doubt that this case was among those which caused considerable discussion among republicans and their political representatives. Despite this, we have found no evidence of adverse political influence on the investigation."

The investigation also did not support the suggestion that police inaction was such that Ms Cahill had to direct how the investigation progressed, but said its lack of a strategy for researching information already in the public domain contributed to her mounting concerns.

As a result, Dr Maguire said four officers should be disciplined over shortcomings in the police response. Three of the officers recommended for action have been disciplined, while the fourth had already retired.

In a statement, Chief Constable George Hamilton said he apologises "unequivocally for the hurt and distress caused" to the victims and for the failures in the police investigation.

"The report found failures by the RUC in 2000, to share vital information which linked a man to the alleged abuse of children," he said.

"Whilst PSNI has stated that they are satisfied that current police practices would not allow such information to go un-investigated today, the report noted other failures in the PSNI's investigations. These standards fall very short of the high expectations that I and my officers set ourselves and that the public expect.

"I accept the report and we have since implemented all the recommendations made by PONI for changes to PSNI policies.

"There is now a better understanding of the importance and the need to work collaboratively across departments within the organisation."

SDLP Leader, Colum Eastwood, said it was "disgusting" that the PSNI failed to investigate Ms Cahill's case "with the utmost care and professionalism".

"What is more disturbing is that it's predecessor, the RUC failed to act on intelligence with respect to suspected child sexual abuse and the Provisional IRA investigation into the same," he said.

"It is also disturbing that its successor the PSNI failed to adequately deal with this issue. This is a damning indictment of our criminal justice system that has been found to fail the most vulnerable in our society, victims of abuse."

The SDLP Leader also called upon Sinn Fein to apologise over how it handled cases like Ms Cahill's in the past.

"It is imperative they now come forward and inform communities and respective law enforcement, whether it be the PSNI or An Garda Síochána, of any other abusers that have been moved into communities by the IRA," he said.

Image: Máiría Cahill.


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