A body representing former police officers has expressed disappointment at their failure to have a court quash the ombudsman’s report into the 1994 Loughinisland murders.
The Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers’ Association (NIRPOA) said the watchdog has been allowed to deliver a ‘collusion’ verdict “without the inconvenience” of having his evidential material independently scrutinised.
The NIRPOA spoke out after Thursday’s ruling by Mrs Justice Keegan – that the Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire was entitled to express his belief that “collusion was a significant feature” in the UVF attack on the Heights Bar that claimed six lives.
The judicial review decision overturns a ruling by Mr Justice McCloskey in December 2017, that the ombudsman had no legal basis to make public statements around matters which did not result in either a criminal prosecution or disciplinary proceedings against any individual officer.
A spokesman for the association said: “In finding the police guilty of ‘collusion’ the Police Ombudsman NI has assumed the responsibility of the courts but without the inconvenience of having any evidence tested in due process.”
He added: “NIRPOA believes that only a properly constituted court is entitled, after weighing all of the available evidence, to establish such guilt or innocence.“
UVF gunmen opened fire inside the Co Down bar as their victims watched a World Cup football match in June 1994.
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.
The NIRPOA spokesman said the association was mindful of the effect the ongoing legal wrangle was having on the families and friends of the Loughinisland victims, but said former police officers were entitled to the same standards of justice as everyone else.
“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,” he said.
But, he added: “We are disappointed that the learned judge has seen fit to overturn the very clear findings made by Mr Justice McCloskey on 21 December last year.
“The Police Ombudsman has already been obliged, after prolonged legal action, to admit that his conduct in relation to Mr Hawthorne was wrong. We stand by our original position that the PONI Loughinisland investigation and report were seriously flawed.
“The role of PONI, 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, the evidence being tested and a proper adjudication made.”
In her judgement, Justice Keegan acknowledged the flaws in the ombudsman’s initial report.
“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,” she said.
The NIRPOA spokesman said: ”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.
“Unlike a number of litigants in Northern Ireland, we cannot rely on legal aid to fund our actions. Nor do we have access to unlimited funds supplied by the taxpayer.
He added: “We will therefore have to consider the judgement carefully and decide what future steps we can take.”