Collusion tag hard to shake, says ex-officer ‘vindicated’ by High Court

Raymond White during his time as a senior RUC officer
Raymond White during his time as a senior RUC officer

A retired senior policeman who mounted a legal challenge over the police ombudsman’s report into the Loughinisland massacre said he feels “vindicated” by yesterday’s High Court ruling.

Raymond White, chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association, said he took “comfort” from Mr Justice McCloskey’s finding that the report was “unlawful and procedurally unfair”.

He told the News Letter: “This outcome was an indication of what we have been saying for 10 years or more; that there was no due process or fairness in the way this investigation was carried out.”

Mr White said he was now hopeful that the ombudsman’s report will be formally quashed when the High Court reconvenes on January 12.

“From our point of view we are pleased that we have been vindicated by the actions we took,” he added.

“We have been saying all along that the investigation was flawed as there was no right of reply for police, and no attempts to prosecute any of the officers accused.”

While he said the Retired Police Officers Association “100% supports” the existence of the ombudsman’s office, he felt yesterday’s ruling has damaged the credibility of the police watchdog.

“I think he should now be seriously considering his position,” he added. “The office is dysfunctional at present and needs to take a hard look at itself.”

Mr White added that he was conscious of the “collateral affect” the investigation into the Loughinisland killings has had on the families of the victims.

“They have been severely let down by the ombudsman’s office in terms of the quality of this investigation. It is sad that they have been dragged through this,” he told the News Letter.

The former assistant chief constable and head of Special Branch and CID said police have the right to use the courts “to ensure our service record is protected”.

However, he feared the damage “has already been done” by the report published by the ombudsman in 2016, which said there had been collusion between some police officers and loyalist gunmen who killed six Catholics at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland in 1994.

“The tag of collusion will be difficult to shake off,” Mr White added.

“The word collusion is like cling film; you can wrap it around whatever you choose. It is impossible for officers to defend themselves against these allegations as the term is undefined and has no foothold in law whatsoever.

“We can’t have the ombudsman using dictionary terms and leaving it open to the public to apply their own definition to what that means. Their use of terminology was careless and this was way beyond the scope of what they were set up to do.

“While we fully back the existence of an ombudsman office, we are opposed to the lack of proper due process. The accused must have a right of reply and the claims must be tested by an independent body.

“The process was a sham and we are pleased with what the judge has said. We will now wait to see if the report is formally quashed.”