Published Date: 04.07.2004
An investigation by the Police Ombudsman's Office into aspects of police conduct prior to the murder of Belfast man William Stobie, has found that police officers did all they reasonably could to protect his life.
Mr. Stobie, (51) a known Loyalist, was shot dead outside his home at a block of flats on the Forthriver Road in the Glencairn area of the city on December 12 2001. The Loyalist paramilitary group the Red Hand Defenders later said they carried out the attack.
The Police Ombudsman's investigation followed a complaint from Mr. Stobie's family, which alleged that the police failed to protect him from threats to his life and that they did not make any attempt to minimise those threats.
The murder came ten days after the police warned Mr. Stobie about his personal security and more than two weeks after he had been acquitted on charges of 'aiding and abetting' in the killing of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
Police Ombudsman investigators spoke to members of the Stevens team, who investigated the murder of Pat Finucane, to members of PSNI Special Branch, to local police where Mr. Stobie lived, and to the PSNI team investigating his murder. They also spoke to his family and gained access to police files.
An examination of RUC files confirmed that over the years the police had been aware of possible threats to Mr. Stobie's safety and had graded those threats at varying levels according to the particular danger it was felt they posed. The files showed that in April 2000 Mr. Stobie was regarded as being at a high risk.
According to the files, by May 2000 police had suggested Mr. Stobie should move from his home for safety reasons but he did not accept this advice. It is recorded that Mr. Stobie said he had been assured by a senior Loyalist that he would be safe living in his 'own area.' By July Mr. Stobie's risk rating had been reduced.
In April 2001, the Stevens Inquiry team informed RUC Special Branch that charges against Mr. Stobie in relation to the murder of Mr. Finucane were likely to be dropped and said they had no intelligence that he was in any danger.
By July that year, the RUC said they had no knowledge of any specific threat against Mr. Stobie but recommended that the situation be kept under review.
On Sunday, December 2, 2001, six days after he had been acquitted of charges in relation to the murder of Patrick Finucane, police officers called at Mr. Stobie's home and told him they had received a telephone call that led them to believe his life was under threat. This is corroborated by Mr. Stobie's family.
Police officers again urged Mr Stobie to move to a different address and told him that an Assistant Chief Constable would support his urgent removal from his home. The officers stressed the urgency of the situation.
Mr. Stobie is recorded as saying he felt safer in his 'own area.' The officers gave Mr. Stobie advice about his personal security and spent some time in discussion with him given that he had refused to move.
The Police Ombudsman investigation also confirmed that routine police patrols in the area were notified to make regular checks on Mr. Stobie's home, and also established that they had, in fact, done so.
The Police Ombudsman's investigation concluded that officers in north Belfast had alerted Mr. Stobie to the threat against him and had attempted to assist him to deal with those threats. They offered him support to move house and offered him advice on personal steps he could take to increase his safety - both of which he declined.
The Police Ombudsman has raised a number of peripheral issues with the Police Service of Northern Ireland about security procedures, none of which impacted on the fatal attack on Mr. Stobie.