‘Why no charges if collusion in Loughinisland was clear?’

Chief Constable George Hamilton
Chief Constable George Hamilton

The Police Ombudsman has been challenged as to why he brought no charges against anyone after making such a strong finding of collusion in the report into the Loughinisland murders.

Last week the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI) made national headlines when he found that “collusion was a significant feature” of the 1994 UVF murders of six Catholic men in Loughinisland, Co Down.

However, in BBC Spotlight on Tuesday, Chief Constable George Hamilton said he would have expected PONI to recommend officers were charged if there had definitely been collusion.

The PONI did not make any arrests, although it has the power to do so; nor did it recommend prosecutions to the Public Prosecution Service.

On Wednesday DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he shared the Chief Constable’s concerns.

“It seems we are rapidly moving to a situation where we are going to deal with the past in public trials rather than by due process of the law,” the MP said. “If the report findings were so serious that there had been collusion, then why now is the Ombudsman telling us he does not have enough evidence to bring charges?

“That is why I have recommended legacy cases be removed from the Police Ombudsman and be dealt with by the Historical Investigations Unit – not dealing with cases on supposition or hearsay, which are terms we are dealing with at the moment. I am not sure this is supporting victims or the police officers who bravely stood in the front line.”

Mr Hamilton told Spotlight there seems to be “some sort of distance between the strength of the language in the report” and the fact police officers were not even reported to the PPS.

“If I got to a point where I was convinced in a very clear way that collusion was a key element of the Loughinisland murders then I’d be looking to take that conclusion into evidence through arrests, interviews, charges,” he said.

The PONI told the News Letter that the weight of information available – on guns importation, to the events in south Down and the Loughinisland attack itself - provided an overall picture which was “clear and significant”.

It said: “Our investigation found evidence that crimes may have been committed, but with the passage of time some witnesses were no longer available, some documentation was missing and it was not always possible to get a detailed picture of the role of certain individuals. A number of related issues referred to in our report are still under investigation”.