Legal challenge to Loughinisland findings before end of year

Two retired senior policemen's legal challenge to watchdog findings that RUC officers colluded with loyalists who massacred six Catholic men more than two decades ago will be heard by the end of the year, a High Court judge has vowed.

Six Catholics were murdered in the Loughinisland atrocity in 1994
Six Catholics were murdered in the Loughinisland atrocity in 1994

Mr Justice McCloskey insisted Raymond White and Thomas Hawthorne’s bid to judicially review the police ombudsman report into the Loughinisland atrocity will proceed in December “come what may”.

He also pledged to clear a backlog of litigation surrounding so-called legacy cases from Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The judge said: “They have become too long in the tooth by some measure, and the court will proactively ensure that all of those proceedings are processed with expedition and efficiency.”

Mr White and Mr Hawthorne’s case involves claims there was no legal power to publish findings which should instead be quashed.

UVF gunmen opened fire at the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down as their victims were watching a World Cup match in June 1994.

The men who died were: Adrian Rogan, 34, Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, Barney Green, 87, Daniel McCreanor 59, Patrick O’Hare, 35, and Eamon Byrne, 39.

In June last year the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said collusion was a significant feature in the murders.

He found no evidence police had prior knowledge of the attack, but identified “catastrophic failings” in the investigation.

One of the suspects in the attack was an informer, according to the findings.

Police were also said to have been aware of a UVF gang operating in south Down and involved in previous murders.

Other failures identified in the report included a delay in arresting suspects whose names were known within 24 hours of the shooting.

But Mr White, a representative of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers’ Association, and Mr Hawthorne, a retired chief superintendent and former sub-divisional commander in the area, are challenging the legality of the document.

Their legal team contend that the ombudsman had no right to reach his determination.

The Loughinisland report should only have been released if it recommended prosecutions or disciplinary action, according to their case.

In court today lawyers were offered a choice of dates next month for the hearing, with Mr Justice McCloskey stressing he will list it himself if they cannot reach agreement.

He told them: “I’m going to hear this case in December, come what may.”