A body representing former police officers is to appeal a court judgement they claim endorses unproven allegations against its members over the 1994 Loughinisland murders.
On November 29, Mrs Justice Keegan ruled that the Police Ombudsman (PONI) was entitled to express his belief that “collusion was a significant feature” in the UVF attack that claimed the lives of six men at the Heights Bar.
The Justice Keegan ruling followed her review of a previous determination by Mr Justice McCloskey - issued in December last year - that the ombudsman had no legal basis for making public statements around issues that did not result in criminal or disciplinary proceedings against any named officer.
Justice Keegan overturned that ruling by stating: “In the unique situation presented by the Troubles it is appropriate that bereaved families should have the benefit of an independent investigative report such as this, particularly where no prosecutions have been brought.”
The retired officers claim this interpretation permits the ombudsman to deliver damning judgements “without the inconvenience” of having his evidential material independently scrutinised.
Immediately following Justice Keegan’s ruling, a NIRPOA spokesman told the News Letter: “Although he has produced no evidence whatsoever, the Ombudsman has seen fit to pronounce that the police were guilty of ‘collusion’ with terrorists who carried out a vile atrocity.
“Although not legally defined, collusion by police with terrorists involved in such a horrendous multiple murder, whether before or after the act, must amount to the most serious of both criminal and disciplinary offences.”
The men killed were: Adrian Rogan, 34, Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, Barney Green, 87, Daniel McCreanor 59, Patrick O’Hare, 35, and Eamon Byrne, 39. Five others were also wounded in the atrocity for which no-one has been brought to justice.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association said they “can confirm that they will appeal the recent Judicial Review decision concerning the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland,” and added: “It would not therefore be appropriate to make any further comment at this point”.
Last week the NIRPOA said it was mindful of the effect the legal wrangle was having on the Loughinisland families, but reiterated that they were entitled to the same standard of justice as all other citizens.
“First and foremost the NIRPOA wish to make it clear that our thoughts are with the friends and families of those who were murdered at the Heights Bar in 1994. It remains our sincere wish that those responsible will be brought to justice,” the spokesman said.
In her judgement, Justice Keegan acknowledged the flaws in the ombudsman’s initial report into the Loughinisland atrocity, but found that the police regulatory body had the authority to make a public statement around the events both before and after the UVF mass murder.
The judge said: “It is of course correct that the ombudsman must exercise his powers in a fair way. The procedural deficits that were highlighted in the first challenge have been corrected.
“In any event, this revised report does not contain a finding of either criminal or civil responsibility against any individual.”
The NIRPOA has said it “stands by its original position that the PONI Loughinisland investigation and report were seriously flawed.
“The role of the ombudsman, which NIRPOA fully supports, is to investigate, assemble evidence of criminal or disciplinary offences, and produce that evidence to the appropriate court or disciplinary tribunal for due process to take place”.