Shankill Butchers ‘police misconduct’ probe at risk, says Ombudsman

Shankill Butchers gang member Robert 'Basher' Bates' funeral cortege passes along the Shankill Road in Belfast in June 1997
Shankill Butchers gang member Robert 'Basher' Bates' funeral cortege passes along the Shankill Road in Belfast in June 1997

An independent investigation into alleged police misconduct surrounding the Shankill Butchers serial killers is under threat in Northern Ireland because of lack of funding.

The notoriously sadistic loyalist group from Belfast committed 19 savage murders, torturing and mutilating random innocent Catholics with butcher knives and axes before cutting their throats, during a reign of terror spanning some of the darkest days of the Troubles.

They are included in more than 160 probes into alleged police criminality or misconduct in Northern Ireland - some involving the IRA and a splinter republican group - whose futures are in question because of uncertainty over money, the Police Ombudsman confirmed.

Politicians failed to strike a deal during recent negotiations which would have seen a team of independent detectives review all unresolved conflict murders in an investigation funded by the British Government.

Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said: “News that the proposed Historical Investigation Unit (HIU) will not now go ahead as planned next year has put a question mark over more than 160 historical investigations on our books.”

He added: “Cases potentially affected include allegations of police criminality and serious misconduct in relation to murders committed by the Shankill Butchers as well as others committed by republican organisations the IRA and INLA.”

At the time of the murders, some in the Catholic community felt a “blind eye” was being turned and that the identities of the Shankill Butchers were well known. Police have previously strongly denied this.