31/10/2019

SF: PSNI Failing Families Of Troubles Victims

Sinn Fein has accused the PSNI of continually failing the families of Troubles victims after it emerged that reports into three deaths will be delayed.

The Police Ombudsman, Marie Anderson, has informed a number of families who made complaints to her Office about events during 'The Troubles' that investigations may be delayed following the PSNI's identification of further material.

This is the second occasion this year the families have faced a potential delay.

In February the Ombudsman's office disclosed that its staff had identified significant, sensitive police information which had not been made available previously.

The PSNI launched an internal review of its processes, while the Criminal Justice Inspector began a review of the police disclosure methods. Both are ongoing.

Mrs Anderson said the Chief Constable has now advised her that further information has been identified as part of its subsequent review.

She said she understands the information came to light when police re ran several Police Ombudsman requests for information in a newly established database.

"This involves a considerable amount of material and we are carefully going through it to establish if it has ever been provided to us before," Mrs Anderson said. "To date, none of this information is notably significant or presents us with new lines of inquiry.

"Nevertheless, we must satisfy ourselves that this information is thoroughly assessed. This may cause a delay in investigations which had been nearing completion."

Mrs Anderson said her immediate concern is for the people at the heart of these investigations:

"The families who have made complaints have already shown considerable patience and may now be facing further delay. This delay may be distressing to families and also for the former police officers under investigation."

The Police Ombudsman was informed by police that the problem was caused by a failure in processes:

"I acknowledge that the search mechanisms the police are now using have uncovered this information and they have alerted us to it.
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"However, we have been told this latest issue did not affect the courts system or the Coroner's Office. That in itself raises questions."

Mrs Anderson, who in a previous role established and for five years ran the Information Commissioner's Office in Northern Ireland, has said she will involve herself personally in dealing with this latest issue:

"I have now spoken to the Chief Constable on a number of occasions about this issue. I have also visited police HQ to try and gain an understanding of the new system and how this happened.

"In the meantime, I have also insisted that my staff become more directly involved in the search of police systems. I personally intend to become more directly involved in oversight of these exercises where necessary."

The recent issue has again raised more long term questions about the provision of information about the past: "I acknowledge that the PSNI have done considerable work in this area, but from discussions with police I accept that this is a much bigger task than they currently have resources for," Mrs Anderson continued.

"A complete inventory is needed of all its information systems and a better understanding of the types of material each holds if the proposed Historical Inquiries Unit and the wider criminal justice system is to benefit."

Following the news, Sinn Fein victims and legacy spokesperson Linda Dillon branded the delay an "appalling and unacceptable failure".

"The revelations that three reports relating to killings by loyalist death squads will be delayed after the emergence of additional documentation is appalling and unacceptable," the Mid Ulster MLA said.

"It's important to remember it is the families of victims who are being let down once again.

"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.

"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."

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