'Time for rational discussion: independent investigation must remain.' Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 28.01.2009

The Police Ombudsman, Mr Al Hutchinson, has given a general welcome to the proposals which have been announced for dealing with Northern Ireland's past, but has said the concept of independent investigation of police must remain.

The Police Ombudsman's Office currently has a significant number of cases relating to incidents during 'The Troubles,' involving more than 120 deaths.

The cases have arisen from complaints made by members of the public and from matters being referred to it by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) during the course of its investigations.

The final number of deaths which will ultimately be referred to the Police Ombudsman's Office by the HET is still not known.

Mr Hutchinson said he hopes the Eames Bradley proposals will now be the subject of important community discussion that will result in a more effective way of dealing with the past, including investigations:

"The recommendations are challenging and would seem to offer a very reasoned attempt to start a process that can deal with the many issues arising from Northern Ireland's past.

As far as the recommendations relate to the role of the Police Ombudsman, it has long been my expressed view that having to investigate issues of the past is a disproportionate drain on the resources that I have available for my primary role, which is helping hold today's policing to account, and to assist in delivering better policing for tomorrow.

I have been on record as saying that while the victims of the past must not be forgotten, the Police Ombudsman's Office is a blunt instrument too narrowly focused to deal with what are broader societal issues. Specifically, the narrow focus on the police, to the exclusion of paramilitary groups and other State actors, along with my statutory ability to focus only on evidence and not information, means that the victims of those terrible times have expectations raised that I can seldom satisfy.

I do not believe that a line can or should be drawn under the Past, particularly if we want to learn lessons and avoid history repeating itself. Nor do I believe that the needs of those who have been victimized should be ignored. Victims are not the exclusive 'property' of one community, one institution, one area or region. Therefore, it is important that there is a rational discussion on the merits of the proposals if the next generation is to benefit, something that will be difficult for such an emotive topic.

There are still issues and practicalities which I suspect need to be refined. It is important, for example, to ensure that those people investigating police complaint issues from the Past are and are seen to be wholly independent of those they are investigating. I am certainly willing to use our expertise and assist in that regard.

Overall, I hope that the majority of people in Northern Ireland will consider and welcome these recommendations for what they are - a constructive and genuine effort to find a way forward. Dialogue will be important and this Office stands in readiness to help in any way it can.

I advised Government in June of last year of the significant additional resources my Office would require if there was not some other way found to deal with investigations of the Past. If an alternative way can be agreed, then these resources can be rationalised in a new structure. If not, then we will require those resources soon.

In the meantime, the Police Ombudsman's Office will keep faith with our legislated mandate and continue to investigate, in a prioritised manner and with the resources available to us for that purpose, those allegations of police wrongdoing that occurred during the period of 1968 to 1998," he said.


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