Former police officers in Northern Ireland are being deemed guilty of wrongdoing by the ombudsman’s office (PONI) without “evidence to substantiate those claims,” Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
Highlighting both the PONI report on the Loughinisland atrocity and the 1988 ‘good neighbour’ bombing in Londonderry, the DUP MP said they had “given rise to concerns” about “the manner in which the police ombudsman’s office conducts its investigations”.
Sir Jeffrey made his comments during a Westminster debate on how Troubles’ legacy cases are being handled.
Referring to the Loughinisland case at Westminster Hall on Tuesday, he said: “To date, the findings of court proceedings have not eased my concern about the manner of the report, the findings that arise from the report and, in particular, how evidence was gathered and those conclusions were drawn.
“The difficulty I have is that, in report after report, the police ombudsman is inferring guilt, implying guilt, and in some cases openly stating that police are guilty. However, it does not bring forward evidence to substantiate those claims or go after police officers for disciplinary or criminal wrongdoing, because the evidence to support the claims is not there.”
Six Catholic men were murdered when a UVF gang attacked The Heights bar in Loughinisland in June 1994. No one has ever been charged or convicted in connection with the atrocity.
In his report on the Loughinisland murders issued in 2016, ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: “When viewed collectively, I have no hesitation in saying collusion was a significant feature of the Loughinisland murders,”
Although the report’s findings were scathing, there was no evidence that any identified officer had committed any offence, or even breached the police code of conduct.
A legal action has been launched by the NI Retired Police Officers’ Association with the aim of having the PONI report quashed.
Speaking during the same Commons debate, DUP MP Jim Shannon said he believed the ombudsman’s office “has lost credibility,” and added: “I believe that police officers involved in any case, wherever that may be, and who have not been afforded the protection of due process, should not be subjected to destructive and withering condemnations by any person who has a position of power.”
Conservative MP Bob Stewart said he was “dismayed” by what he had heard.
“I find it absolutely appalling if there is any suspicion that the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is not fair in dealing with those incredibly gallant men and women,” he said.
A spokesman for the ombudsman’s office said: “We stand by the findings of all our legacy reports, which are publicly available on our website.
“However, there is the broader issue of how Northern Ireland deals with the legacy of its troubled past.
“The Police Ombudsman has said on many occasions that the current arrangements are not working, and that a new approach is necessary.”
The spokesman added: ”He has consistently voiced his support for the Stormont House legacy proposals, stating that they would provide for a better-funded and much more comprehensive and victim-centred approach to the past.”