Chief Constable George Hamilton has said the Police Ombudsman’s Office should be held to the same “investigative and evidential standards” as the PSNI.
It comes after the High Court ruled that Dr Michael Maguire had overstepped his legal powers by declaring that officers colluded with loyalist killers in the Loughinisland massacre.
When the ombudsman’s report was first published in June last year, it was fully backed by Mr Hamilton, who at the time described collusion in the 1994 killings as “totally unacceptable” and said those responsible should be held accountable.
But the PSNI said the High Court ruling was “consistent” with the reservations Mr Hamilton had expressed previously.
In an interview with BBC’s Spotlight programme last June, Mr Hamilton said he was surprised that the police ombudsman did not recommend criminal charges for officers he said were guilty of collusion.
He told the programme: “There does seem to be some sort of distance between the strength of the language in the report, in the fact that we’re not having police officers even reported to the PPS.
“If I got to a point where I was convinced in a very clear way that collusion was a key element of the Loughinisland murders then I’d be looking to take that conclusion into evidence through arrests, interviews, charges.”
A statement issued on Thursday by police said: “The chief constable accepted the (ombudsman’s) report on Loughinisland in full when it was published.
“However, he did publicly express reservations that, given the strength of the findings and conclusions in his report, the ombudsman did not follow through with arrests, interviews and charges of the police officers involved.”
Following the finding by Mr Justice McCloskey, Mr Hamilton said he “fully endorses the important role of the Office of the Police Ombudsman NI in supporting the delivery of effective policing and community confidence”.
However, he added: “I also believe that the same investigative and evidential standards that the criminal justice system rightly expects of the PSNI should also be expected of the ombudsman.”
Expressing his sympathies to the families of the Loughinisland victims, Mr Hamilton said: “In the days before Christmas, my thoughts are first and foremost with the many families who continue to suffer the pain of loss as a result of our troubled past.”