Underfunding ‘impeding’ ombudsman probes

Police Ombudsman
Police Ombudsman

Systemic and persistent government underfunding is impeding watchdog attempts to investigate complaints against police within a reasonable time, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.

Mr Justice Maguire also declared that the Department of Justice acted unlawfully by failing to provide the police ombudsman with sufficient resources to examine alleged flaws in the RUC probe into a loyalist murder 35 years ago.

His verdict came in a legal challenge mounted after the family of Patrick Murphy were told the inquiry by Dr Michael Maguire’s staff was not expected to be completed until 2025.

Mr Murphy was shot dead on his 63rd birthday at his grocer’s shop on Belfast’s Mount Merrion Avenue in 1982.

No-one has ever been convicted for the killing.

The victim’s family lodged a complaint with the police ombudsman about how the murder investigation was handled in 2004 and 2009.

In 2014 they were told that staffing levels within the unit of the ombudsman’s office dealing with their case had been reduced by 25%.

Mr Murphy’s 68-year-old daughter, Patricia Bell, launched judicial review proceedings against the watchdog and the Department of Justice.

During the hearing counsel for the ombudsman’s office conceded it was in breach of its statutory duty to investigate within a reasonable time.

Ms Bell’s lawyers described Dr Maguire and his team as “blameless”.

They argued that the department was frustrating an obligation imposed on it by parliament to allocate sufficient funding.

Mr Justice Maguire backed their case, saying the “source of the problem besetting the police ombudsman’s office lies with the failure of government”.