A former detective claims he was used as “fodder” by the police ombudsman (PONI) to initiate a fresh Loughinisland investigation.
Ex-CID sergeant Johnston Brown said that although serious concerns around his interaction with a low-level police informant were cited in court by PONI as requiring further investigation, he claims he was never interviewed under caution in an effort to establish the facts.
Six Catholic men were shot dead when a UVF gang burst into The Heights bar in June 1994.
Those killed were: Adrian Rogan, 34; Daniel McCreanor, 59; Eamon Byrne, 39; Patrick O’Hare, 35; Barney Green, 87 and Malcolm Jenkinson, 52.
The second police ombudsman probe was launched following complaints by lawyers for the bereaved families – supported by the current ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire – that the previous Al Hutchinson report of 2011 was too narrowly focused on events around the actual murders in 1994.
Dr Maguire had been the head of the NI Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) immediately prior to replacing Mr Hutchinson as police ombudsman in July 2012.
In his final year as CJI chief inspector, Dr Maguire produced a highly critical inspection report questioning the “operational independence” of PONI, and Mr Hutchinson announced that he would step down soon afterwards.
Within months of assuming the role of ombudsman, Dr Maguire expressed concerns around a statement taken from a north Belfast police informant who had briefly owned the Triumph getaway car before it was sold on by another car dealer to the Loughinisland killer gang.
Concerns that this interaction between Mr Brown and the informant was not properly investigated were serious enough to be a major factor in the decision of Mr Justice Treacy to authorise the quashing of the Hutchinson report.
Identified as ‘Officer 10’ in the 2016 PONI report, Mr Brown told the News Letter he believes he has been used as “fodder” in an effort to spark a fresh investigation.
Although the ombudsman claimed that the families would be understandably concerned that the detective’s actions were designed to afford “protection from culpability” for the informant ‘Person Q,’ Dr Maguire’s final report would confirm that the prompt actions of the officer “accelerated the process of identifying parties involved in the ownership of the Triumph Acclaim.”
The ombudsman’s report also states: “It is also important to note that my investigation has not seen evidence or intelligence linking Person Q to the Loughinisland attack.”
Due to failing health, Mr Brown sought the assistance of ex-Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson in writing a letter of complaint to PONI in 2016.
Mr Simpson, like his former CID colleague seeking help, was forced to flee his family home on more than one occasion due to loyalist paramilitary death threats. Both men had been at the forefront of disrupting loyalist terrorist activity during the turbulent years of 1970s and 1980s.
In the letter, Mr Simpson said: “It is my belief that your submission to the High Court on 19 December 2012, to have the Loughinisland atrocity revisited by your department based on suspicions that there was some form of illicit relationship between Mr Brown and [Person Q] which was detrimental to the initial police investigation, was based on a foundation of shifting sand.
“This had the effect of exciting the relatives of the victims of the Loughinisland massacre as you unfairly held out some hope to them of presenting the relationship between [Officer 10] and [Person Q] as being evidence of collusion. You have obviously been unable to do so”.
Mr Simpson also outlined the track record of the highly commended detective in bringing loyalist terrorists to justice and invited the ombudsman to comment on whether this profile was that of “someone who would have a hand in covering up anything in relation to the Loughinisland massacre?”
Mr Simpson said that as a former senior detective involved in a number of high-profile investigations he had been happy to assist PONI on several occasions, however, he concluded his letter to the ombudsman stating: “I will be offering no further assistance in respect of historical investigations in which I played a role.”
Responding to claims he used a former RUC detective as ‘fodder’ to spark a fresh investigation, and then used the new probe to link a number of unconnected events to the Loughinisland murders, the police ombudsman (PONI) said he “stands by” his findings.
The NI Retired Police Officers Association has also posed a number of questions in relation to what forensic expertise was sought before PONI determined that the police handling of crime exhibits, including the killers’ getaway car, was negligent.
The ombudsman said: “The quashing of the first Police Ombudsman Loughinisland report and the publication of the second have already been the subject of extensive consideration by the court, as well as public comment. We stand by the findings of the final Police Ombudsman Loughinisland report.”
Speaking outside Belfast High Court in December 2012 following the quashing of the first report, the families’ spokesperson Emma Rogan said: “Al Hutchinson’s report is now in the bin. It is a good opportunity for Mr Maguire to put the record straight. Fingers crossed, hopefully in 2013 Mr Maguire will do what he says he’s going to do.”