Legal Rejection Of Bid To Quash Loughinisland Investigation Welcomed

Sinn Fein has welcomed a court ruling on the Loughinisland Massacre, in which a judge rejected the claim of retired police officers that the Ombudsman was exceeding his legal powers in publishing findings on the event.

The former law enforcement officials aimed to quash a watchdog report that highlighted RUC collusion with loyalists who were responsible for murdering six men.

UVF gunmen opened fire at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down, as their victims watched a World Cup football match in June 1994.

Adrian Rogan, Malcolm Jenkinson, Barney Green, Daniel McCreanor, Patrick O'Hare and Eamon Byrne all lost their lives.

Five others were wounded in the atrocity, for which no one has ever been brought to justice.

In June 2016, Northern Ireland's Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said collusion between some officers and the loyalist gunmen was a significant feature in the murders.

He identified "catastrophic failings" in the police investigation, despite finding no evidence that they had prior knowledge of the attack.

Raymond White, representing the Northern Ireland Retires Police Officers' Association and Ronald Hawthorne, a former police commander, were seeking to throw out the report.

They argued on the grounds that the watchdog lacks the legal power to investigate and publish damning findings, without giving a proper chance to respond.

An initial hearing in December 2017 found the report was procedurally unfair.
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Another judge, Mr Justice McCloskey, said it failed to make clear that the findings did not apply to Mr Hawthorne.

Lawyers representing the Ombudsman and victim's families argued Mr Mccloskey should withdraw due to his role as a barrister in separate litigation 17 years ago.

The renewed challenge to the amended report focused only on issues around the extension of legal powers used to publish the findings, which counsel for the retired officers stressed was not an attack on the institution of the Police Ombudsman's office.

The watchdog's legal team countered that the Police (Northern Ireland) Act gave him the required statutory power to make the determinations contained in his public statement.

In the most recent ruling, Mrs Justice Keegan backed the Ombudsman's position and said there was an "obligation to investigate such matters and a strong public interest to know the outcome", rejecting the retired officers' argument.

She added: "This is a legacy case, involving the death of six people in circumstances where serious questions have been raised about police conduct."

Sinn Feen MP Chris Hazzard praised the decision to uphold the watchdog report.

"The report by the Police Ombudsman exposed the levels of collusion in the loyalist murder of six men in the Height’s Bar in 1994," the south Down MP said.

"No one has ever been brought before the courts for the Loughinisland Massacre. Instead, the relatives of the six men murdered were subject to 20 years of state cover-up on collusion into the murders carried out by loyalist paramilitaries. 

"Sinn Fein will continue to stand with the families in their decades long campaign for truth and justice."


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