No charges for police ombudsman investigators over RUC detectives probe

Two police ombudsman (PONI) investigators suspected of perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office will not face charges, the Public Prosecution Service has revealed.

Monday, 4th March 2019, 6:39 am
Two ex-detectives were put on trial but police ombudsman investigators were themselves then questioned and a file sent to PPS

The PONI employees had been the lead investigators in a probe that resulted in two former RUC detectives facing a jury trial over their handling of a 1979 police prosecution which became known as the ‘Derry Four’ case.

The trial of the two ex-officers was dramatically halted in December 2014 when discrepancies in the disclosure of documents became apparent – with an investigation into the actions of the PONI investigators ordered.

This resulted in a file being sent to the PPS for consideration.

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At that time, a PPS spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have recently been furnished with certain material by the Office of the Police Ombudsman which was not made available to PPS when the decision to prosecute was taken.

“The director has met with the police ombudsman and has expressed his concern in relation to the late disclosure of this material.”

In February 1979, four teenagers – Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerard Kelly – were arrested following the Provisional IRA murder of Royal Welsh Fusiliers officer Steven Kirby in the Abercorn Road area of Londonderry.

All four skipped bail and fled across the border into the Republic.

They have always protested their innocence and almost two decades after the murder all charges against them were dropped.

Their complaint against the RUC was investigated by PONI – then headed by Nuala O’Loan – and in 2012 the matter was referred to the PPS.

This led to former detectives John McGahon and Philip Noel Thompson being accused of recording a statement that was not a true account of a suspect’s actions. Both men denied the allegation.

Halting their trial at Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice Weir directed the jury foreperson to return a “not guilty” verdict.

The investigation into the actions of the PONI investigators began soon afterwards. However, the PPS has now revealed that a ‘no prosecution’ decision has been taken “following a careful consideration of a complex file” compiled by the PSNI.

A PPS spokeswoman said: “In considering the file, senior prosecutors examined whether there was evidence either [PONI] officer had committed any offence with regards to the gathering or handling of material provided for the purposes of the prosecution of two former RUC officers in 2016.

“It was concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute either accused for any offence and accordingly that the test for prosecution was not met.”

A spokesman for the police ombudsman said: “We have robust procedures to ensure that all relevant material is disclosed to the PPS in compliance with our legal obligations.”

The spokesman also confirmed that one of the two detectives involved in the Derry Four case has commenced a legal action against the office of the police ombudsman over his arrest and prosecution.