Ombudsman defends role at Loughinisland film after calling PSNI

Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman, briefed the PSNI about security risks in the film but went on to give a speech at the official launch. (Picture Colm O'Reilly Presseye)
Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman, briefed the PSNI about security risks in the film but went on to give a speech at the official launch. (Picture Colm O'Reilly Presseye)

The Police Ombudsman has rejected claims that his speech at the launch of a ‘collusion’ documentary he had already warned police about constituted an “incredible” endorsement of the film.

Questions about the involvement of Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland’s (PONI), with a film on the loyalist massacre in Loughinisland in 1994 have been raised in the wake of an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Dr Maguire became aware of the allegedly stolen documents at his first private screening in October 2017 - but he still went to the public launch a month later.

The film, ‘No Stone Unturned’, alleged police collusion in the attack. The two principal journalists Trevor Birnie and Barry McCaffrey were arrested by police in August after sensitive PONI documents appeared in the film.

A row erupted this week when PONI denied it prompted the investigation by reporting the documents as stolen.

However Durham police Chief Mike Barton, who came in to investigate, insisted PONI did report the theft of the “secret” documents which both he and PONI agreed put lives at risk.

It has now emerged that the DOJ has run its own probe into claims that PONI was too closely involved with the film – claims it has now firmly rejected. However loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, who lodged the complaint, believes information disclosed by DOJ, and seen by the News Letter, raises further questions.

“The DOJ report shows this was more than normal participation in a documentary, because PONI took a full three days to ‘discuss editorial decisions’ with the film makers in March 2017,” Mr Bryson said.

“Then Dr Maguire became aware of the allegedly stolen documents at his first private screening in October 2017 - but he still went to the public launch a month later. The DOJ report says he ‘notified’ police about the documents within 24 hours of seeing the film for the first time.

“But he should have had nothing more to do with it from then on.”

Mr Bryson said that instead “he went on to speak at the first public screening”, adding that, in his opinion, this “infers an endorsement of the film containing allegedly stolen documents, which to me is just incredible”.

A PONI spokesman responded: “Mr Bryson made a series of complaints to the DOJ which they have investigated and which were not substantiated,” he said.

On Thursday PONI said it briefed the PSNI about risk to individuals after seeing “extracts” from an apparent PONI document in the film, but made no “complaint of theft”.

The Department of Justice report said: “The documentary was made by an Oscar winning film maker and commissioned by the BBC at the time the Police Ombudsman decided to participate. The need to ensure public and police confidence in the investigation and conclusions of this high-profile matter was

therefore considered best achieved through cooperating and explaining the Office’s actions.”

It added: “In deciding to attend the screening of the documentary on 15 November 2017, the Police Ombudsman advised this was to offer views

on the problems of dealing with the past given the experience of the Office in this and considerable public interest.”