Published Date: 31.10.2018
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has said that while he understands the family of Robert McCartney may well feel that the criminal justice system has failed them, there is no evidence police played any part in that failure.
Mr McCartney and those with him were attacked in Belfast on 30 January 2005, having just left Magennis‘ Bar in May Street a short time earlier. He died from his injuries. A number of other men were seriously injured.
The Police Ombudsman’s Office received a series of complaints about how police conducted their investigation into what happened, including that those responsible may have been police informants who were protected from justice.
Dr. Maguire said that the PSNI investigation was comprehensive: “A lot of the public discussion on what happened has focused on events in Magennis‘ Bar, although Robert and his friends were subjected to a brutal attack in a busy street close to the city centre.
The McCartney family may have comforted themselves with the thought that the very public nature of the attack would in itself have helped find and convict those responsible. I can only begin to understand their frustration when this did not happen.
The police investigation of events that night was complex, with what can best be described as some unique obstacles, including a reluctance by some witnesses to give evidence and concerns about the credibility of others. The detectives sought to work around these problems. Their investigation was detailed and comprehensive and resulted in three people facing trial.
Investigation was detailed and comprehensive and resulted in three people facing trial.
I can understand if the family feel the criminal justice system has failed them. Having examined all the information carefully, I can assure them that the fact that no one has been convicted for the murder can in no way be attributed to the work of police in gathering evidence,” he said.
One complaint asked how it was possible for the bar area to be cleaned prior to police arriving on the scene, leaving so little forensic evidence.
The Police Ombudsman found that the police delay in arriving at the bar was not due to any inefficiency on their part: the victims had been discovered nearby and the priority for police officers was the preservation of life, after which they could begin to seek to identify where the attacks happened.
His investigators established that the equivalent of three industrial bins of material was recovered from the scenes and extensive DNA testing was carried out on blood matter.
They found that despite allegations to the contrary, police interviewed the man alleged to have cleaned the bar area after the murder.
It was also alleged that people were allowed to leave the scene without their names and addresses being recorded.
Police Ombudsman investigators confirmed that people left the bar prior to the arrival of police, who then ensured they got contact details for all those who were still present.
Investigators found that police had gone to ‘considerable lengths’ to identify those who had been in the bar earlier, including conducting both door to door inquiries and media appeals.
They did not find evidence to support a complaint that identification parades should have been held much sooner, saying that the strategy to hold off on immediate arrests and ID parades was valid.
The issue of police efforts to find the origins and whereabouts of the knife used to stab Mr McCartney was also raised.
Investigators established that police interviewed several people and conducted an extensive search of drains, gulleys and roof tops over a wide area in their efforts to find the weapon.
They found no records which would support an allegation that police had received information about shoes with blood on them, hidden in the home of a named individual.
Similarly, they did not find evidence which would support an allegation that one of the suspects was not interviewed properly, nor that two named individuals or anyone else had been protected from prosecution because they may have been police informers.
The Police Ombudsman had some criticism of the PSNI and said the proper resourcing of the investigation team was challenging from the outset:
“The work on telephone interrogations, for instance, was not as coordinated as it could have been. A designated Telephone Liason Officer should have been appointed, but all these officers were already assigned to the investigation of the Northern Bank robbery. Evidential opportunities may have arisen if there had been a more consistent approach to telecommunication enquiries,” said Dr Maguire.
Police Ombudsman investigators have met members of Mr McCartney’s family, briefed them on the findings of their investigation and apologised for the time it has taken to complete.