Retired Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers have threatened to boycott investigations by the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman.
The Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association (NIRPOA) has told Justice Minister David Ford it can no longer encourage members to co-operate with Dr Michael Maguire and his team probing historical cases of alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The fallout emerged after claims that the RUC failed to alert the public of their fears about an IRA bomb attack in Londonderry that killed three neighbours in 1988.
Former assistant chief constable Raymond White said: “This association, regrettably, can no longer encourage its members to engage with the police ombudsman in the investigation of historical incidents where breaches of the European Convention on Human rights are alleged.
“For the past decade the association has been a consistent supporter of the principle of there being in place an independent and professional investigation body to examine complaints against the police and to this end NIRPOA has, until now, consistently encouraged its members to co-operate in historical investigations so that the true facts, in such cases, are made known. “
Eugene Dalton, 54, and Sheila Lewis, 68, were killed in the explosion at a house in the Creggan area of Londonderry on August 31, 1988. Gerard Curran, 57, died seven months after being pulled from the rubble.
The attack became known as the ‘Good Samaritan bomb’ because the three friends had gone to check on the whereabouts of a neighbour who had been kidnapped by the IRA six days earlier.
The IRA later apologised, admitting they left a booby trap inside a Wellington boot in the flat hallway in a bid to kill members of an army search team.
Seventeen years after the triple deaths, the Dalton family complained to the ombudsman’s office. They included claims that the RUC had been negligent and had failed in their duty to uphold Mr Dalton’s right to life - under Article two of the European Human Rights Convention.
In July the police ombudsman published a report which confirmed that RUC officers did not alert people in the area about their fears of a bomb. Dr Maguire found that although responsibility for the deaths rested with the people who planted the bomb, police had failed to protect the victims.
The retired police officers association has now rejected the ombudsman’s findings. A 30-page rebuttal of the ombudsman’s findings has been sent to the Attorney General, the Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable and to the ombudsman.
They have also repeated calls for an independent appeals mechanism be set up to deal with complaints.
“The ombudsman has in the opinion of the association misdirected himself both as to fact and to the law,” added Mr White.
“In the view of the association, the lack of investigative rigour in the eight-year-long inquiry resulted in facts, which were not relevant to the process, becoming an integral part of the alleged evidential package considered by the ombudsman.
“The outcome of this was a failure on the part of the ombudsman to apply the evidential test to the relevant facts, i.e. those known to the police before the fatal incident or which reasonably should have been known to them.
“An allegation that Article 2 of the ECHR has been breached is a very grave and complex issue to be addressed.”
The police ombudsman’s office has defended its investigation and findings.
“The findings of our report stand and it will not be withdrawn,” a spokesman said.
“The police ombudsman’s office is the lawful mechanism for investigating criminality and misconduct of police officers. It is extraordinary that the Retired Police Officers’ Association will not encourage their members to participate as witnesses in investigations into the most serious of crimes.”
The ombudsman also claimed his office should be given powers to compel officers to assist with investigations and force them produce all relevant documentation.
Sinn Fein’s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly described the ex-officers’ decision to withdraw co-operation with the ombudsman as unsurprising.
He said: “In any other society an announcement by former serving police officers that they will not co-operate with a State agency investigating murder would be seen an as outrage.
“But given the reality that the RUC special branch in particular was involved in the control and direction of loyalist gangs for years and in the cover-up of their activities, this move will not come as a surprise.”