Police watchdog probed over assistance for Loughinisland film

Dr Michael Maguire, the NI police ombudsman
Dr Michael Maguire, the NI police ombudsman

The police ombudsman is being investigated over his participation in a documentary based upon a classified document believed to have been leaked from his own office.

Dr Michael Maguire featured in ‘No Stone Unturned’ – a film about the UVF massacre of six Catholic men in Loughinisland in 1994 – which named a Co Down man as the main suspect in the attack.

The loyalist blogger and activist, Jamie Bryson.  Pic by Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

The loyalist blogger and activist, Jamie Bryson. Pic by Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

First broadcast in November, the documentary contains allegations that RUC officers colluded with the killers.

Immediately following its release, a PSNI assistant chief constable said that “sensitive documents,” suspected of being used by the documentary makers, are believed to have “originated from within the Office of the Police Ombudsman”.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson subsequently made a complaint to the Department of Justice (DoJ) – claiming it was inappropriate for Mr Maguire to have transported “a commercial camera crew in his official car” and “attended promotional events in relation to a highly controversial documentary based upon documents leaked from the police ombudsman’s office”.

The DoJ has written to Mr Bryson confirming his complaint was being investigated.

A PONI spokesman said it was “not unusual for the ombudsman to engage with the commercial media ... as part of his duty”.

Following the publication of the ombudsman’s official report on the Loughinisland murders, two retired senior police officers launched a legal action – claiming Dr Maguire had afforded them “no due process or fairness” in the way his investigation was carried out. The former officers described the process as “a sham”.

In December, a judge ruled that the ombudsman had gone beyond his powers in declaring that officers ‘colluded’ with the UVF gang, and said the ex-RUC men “were, in effect, accused, tried and convicted without notice and in their absence”.

In January, Mr Justice McCloskey was asked by the ombudsman’s legal representatives to withdraw from the case, on the grounds he could have a subconscious bias in favour of the retired officers.

This claim was based on the fact that while working as a barrister, Mr Justice McCloskey was involved in a challenge to the police watchdog body in 2002.

The judge was scathing of the recusal application, insisting it had fallen well short of the legal test required, however, he agreed that another judge preside over subsequent hearings.

Mr Bryson said: “This complaint raises important issues around the police ombudsman’s involvement in the ‘No Stone Unturned’ documentary, and the perception of bias that some of his activities may have created.”

A spokesman for the police ombudsman said the office could not respond in detail as the complaint is now under investigation by the DoJ.

However, commenting generally, the spokesman said: “I would say that it is not unusual for the police ombudsman to visit people who have made complaints to this office.

“Nor is it unusual for the police ombudsman to engage with the commercial media, both newspapers and broadcasters ... as part of his duty to inform the public about the work of this office.”