The failure to secure convictions for the killing of Robert McCartney in Belfast in 2005 was not down to problems with the PSNI’s investigation, the police ombudsman has found.
The ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said the PSNI carried out a “detailed and comprehensive” murder investigation. He also said no one was ‘protected’ from justice, following complaints that those responsible for the killing may have been police informants.
Mr McCartney, a 33-year-old father of two, died in the street from knife wounds after a fracas erupted in Magennis’ bar close to the city centre in 2005.
His death was widely blamed on IRA members and came at a fragile time politically – before the IRA had decommissioned or Sinn Fein had signed up to policing.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office said it received a series of complaints about how police conducted their investigation into what happened, including the complaint that police informers were responsible and had been protected from justice.
Dr Maguire, however, said that while he understands Mr McCartney’s family “may well feel that the criminal justice system has failed them, there is no evidence police played any part in that failure”.
He continued: “The McCartney family may have comforted themselves with the thought that the very public nature of the attack would in itself have helped find and convict those responsible. I can only begin to understand their frustration when this did not happen.
“The police investigation of events that night was complex, with what can best be described as some unique obstacles, including a reluctance by some witnesses to give evidence and concerns about the credibility of others.
“The detectives sought to work around these problems. Their investigation was detailed and comprehensive and resulted in three people facing trial.
“Having examined all the information carefully, I can assure them that the fact that no one has been convicted for the murder can in no way be attributed to the work of police in gathering evidence.”
The ombudsman found that the police delay in arriving at the bar was not due to inefficiency. The victim had been discovered nearby and the priority for officers was the preservation of life, after which they could begin to seek to identify where the attacks happened.
His investigators established that the equivalent of three industrial bins of material was recovered from the scenes and extensive DNA testing was carried out on blood matter.
They found that, despite allegations to the contrary, police interviewed the man alleged to have cleaned the bar area after the murder.
It was also alleged that people were allowed to leave the scene without their names and addresses being recorded.
Ombudsman investigators found that people left the bar before the arrival of police, who then ensured they got contact details for all those who were still present.
They said police had gone to considerable lengths to identify those who had been in the bar earlier.