14/02/2019

PSNI Issue Apology For Loyalist Killings Disclosure 'Error'

The PSNI has been accused of covering up information after it failed to disclose details about a loyalist gun attack that left five people dead.

It has since denied purposefully withholding the material.

The debacle is in relation to an Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) attack at Sean Graham's bookies in south Belfast in 1992 when five people lost their life.

The Police Ombudsman opened a new line of inquiry after discovering more material linked to the attack, and Northern Ireland's police force has since pledged to allow "full and unfettered access" to their legacy systems.

Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin commented: "On behalf of the Police Service, I want to say to the families who have been affected by these disclosure failings; we are deeply and sincerely sorry.

"PSNI regularly and routinely discloses information to the Office of the Police Ombudsman (PONI). As set out by the Ombudsman in his public statement, we are now aware that information that should have been disclosed to his office was not; and we sincerely regret this."

The force claimed that the error became apparent when a separate researcher elsewhere in the PSNI found the material, and attributed the failure to the varying experience levels of staff, the sheer volume of evidence involved and the "limited" and "archaic" IT systems.

"We entirely agree with the Police Ombudsman, that the effective disclosure of information is central to any system for dealing with the past. The Chief Constable has made it publicly clear on a number of occasions that his preference would be to hand all PSNI's information and disclosure responsibilities to a Historical Investigations Unit. This transfer of data ownership from PSNI to the Director of HIU, along with all associated legal responsibilities, would provide for high levels of independence and would promote public confidence in sensitive areas such as disclosure."

In the absence of any tangible progress towards a HIU, it has been decided that the best interim solution for public confidence in policing would be to give appropriately vetted Ombudsman staff full access to police legacy systems, as well as full responsibility for the material.

"The Chief Constable has sought legal advice as to how to make this possible and we will seek to make progress towards this solution as quickly as we can," Deputy Chief Constable Martin added.

In addition, he said that the PSNI hopes to learn from the experience and work to improve disclosure processes.
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"As soon as this organisational failing came to our attention, we commissioned work to address it and we anticipate that we will have made substantial changes to our disclosure structures in the coming months. We would welcome any independent review that would help support us in that work; but it must be acknowledged that the changes required will need significant financial investment. PSNI have for a long time made clear that we are not adequately resourced to deal with the past and we have an outstanding business case with the Department for Justice for further substantial investment in our disclosure processes."

Following the revelations, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has sought an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable to discuss the failings, which he says are "appalling and unacceptable", and added that an apology is not enough.

"Many people will see this as further evidence that the cover-up of the role of British State forces in the conflict in Ireland is systemic," he said.

"The PSNI may claim that it is an error but how long was it after the PSNI hierarchy knew about this failure before they informed the Police Ombudsman or the families affected.

"The Ombudsman has said he only discovered that 'significant and sensitive' information had not been made available to his staff while they were investigating the murders of five men by a loyalist death squad at Sean Graham's bookies on the Ormeau Road in 1992.

"This 'new' information related to undercover policing."

The north Belfast representative added that many will now be considering the extent of the unknown information and urged compassion for the loved ones of those killed during the Troubles.

"These families, many of whose loved ones were killed by loyalist death squads in collusion with the British state, have been waiting decades for truth and justice. Justice delayed is justice denied.

"The revelations by the Police Ombudsman will further erode public confidence in the British State's willingness to deal with legacy issues. 

"Sinn Féin will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Chief Constable of the PSNI.

"We will also be meeting the Police Ombudsman to discuss this latest failure to disclose information to his investigations and will be raising this at the Policing Board. 

"The continued denial of truth and justice to victims of the conflict reaffirms the need for an end to the delays in implementing the legacy structures agreed by the two governments and the political parties at Stormont House in 2014.

"The PSNI or the British Government saying 'sorry' is not enough. Confidence in policing is diving to its lowest level in many years. Immediate action is needed. There is an onus on the British government to immediately provide funding to the Lord Chief Justice for legacy inquests and adequate funding to the Ombudsman's Office to properly discharge its duties, and meet its commitments to provide maximum disclosure to victims of the conflict."



(JG/CM)

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