Police not influenced by political considerations: Police Ombudsman

Published Date: 07.07.2015

The Police Ombudsman’s Office has concluded that the PSNI investigation of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams for allegedly withholding information about sexual abuse within his family was conducted properly and was not influenced by political considerations.

The Office launched an investigation after it received a complaint that the police had failed to fully investigate Mr. Adams for withholding information about the sexual abuse and alleged that a recommendation not to prosecute him was politically motivated.  

Police Ombudsman investigators established that Mr Adams provided a statement to police detailing that he had been made aware by his niece and her mother that his brother had been sexually abusing his daughter.

The investigators confirmed that Mr Adams later provided a further statement to police which said that during a meeting with his brother a number of years previously, Liam Adams had admitted that he sexually assaulted his daughter.      

The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said his investigators had access to all the relevant police documentation:

Investigators had access to all relevant police documentation.

“It is clear that Mr Adams did not report either conversation immediately to the police.  It is also clear that at one stage police considered whether or not this delay could be regarded as ‘withholding information'.i

Police were alive to the issue of potential criminality regarding the offence of withholding information. A Detective Inspector assessed the potential for criminality against the relevant law and advised that there was insufficient evidence to support any prosecution. This assessment was supported by a Detective Chief Inspector.

Given the obvious sensitivities and the potential impact any such decision could have for this (and future similar cases), the Detective Chief Inspector sought prosecutorial advices from a senior member of staff in the Public Prosecution Service on 24 October 2011.  Within the memo sent to the PPS, the Detective Chief Inspector identified the salient points in issue, as well as the dangerous precedent which could be set in prosecuting a family member in such circumstances where their evidence supports the prosecution case.

They were advised that given the precise nature of the information Mr Adams had been given, the act of not immediately passing it on to police did not meet the legal definition of ‘withholding information’. It was an independent decision of the PPS which directed no prosecution of Mr Adams,’ said Dr Maguire. 

The Police Ombudsman investigation established that the file which the police submitted to the Public Prosecution Service contained all the relevant information which police had available to them.

'File which the police submitted to the Public Prosecution Service contained all the relevant information which police had available to them.'

Liam Adams was subsequently prosecuted and convicted for the historical offences of sexual abuse.  

Dr Maguire said he found no evidence that the recommendation by police not to prosecute Gerry Adams was politically motivated:

“This investigation by my Office considered the legal definition of ‘withholding information,’ which is complex.

“The documentation we have examined shows that the police recommendation not to prosecute Mr Adams followed from an appropriate interpretation of the law as well as some concern over the precedent which such a prosecution could set.  I have found no evidence to indicate that their thinking was influenced by who Mr Adams was,” said Dr Maguire.

The Police Ombudsman said the issue of sexual abuse is a sensitive one:

“My findings in this case arise from a very particular set of circumstances and how they applied to a particular piece of legislation. In relation to this case, I found no evidence of misconduct concerning any of the officers involved. Indeed, the officers were cognisant of how important it is for relatives to come forward with information which may assist in the prosecution of such allegations of historic sexual abuse.”

i For a review of the components of this offence and its history, see the detailed explanation given by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, in his review into the decision of the PPS not to receommend the prosecution of Mr Adams, available from the PPS website (www.ppsni.gov.uk).


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