Police Ombudsman statement on identification of additional police material

Published Date: 30.10.2019

The Police Ombudsman, Marie Anderson, has informed a number of  families who made complaints to her Office about events during ‘The Troubles’ that investigations may be delayed following the PSNI’s identification of further material.

This is the second occasion this year when the Police Ombudsman’s Office has had to tell those families of a potential delay.

In February it disclosed that its staff had identified significant, sensitive police information which had not been made available previously.

The PSNI launched an internal review of its processes, while the Criminal Justice Inspector began a review of the police disclosure methods. Both are ongoing.

Mrs Anderson has said that the Chief Constable has now advised her that further information has been identified as part of its subsequent review.

She said she understands the information came to light when police re ran several Police Ombudsman requests for information in a newly established database.

“This involves a considerable amount of material and we are carefully going through it to establish if it has ever been provided to us before. To date, none of this information is notably significant or presents us with new lines of inquiry.

Nevertheless, we must satisfy ourselves that this information is thoroughly assessed. This may cause a delay in investigations which had been nearing completion,” she said.

Mrs Anderson said her immediate concern is for the people at the heart of these investigations:
“The families who have made complaints have already shown considerable patience and may now be facing further delay.  This delay may be distressing to families and also for the former police officers under investigation,” she said.

The Police Ombudsman has said she has been told by police that the problem was caused by a failure in processes:

“I acknowledge that the search mechanisms the police are now using have uncovered this information and they have alerted us to it.
However, we have been told this latest issue did not affect the courts system or the Coroner’s Office.  That in itself raises questions,” she said.

Mrs Anderson, who in a previous role established and for five years ran the Information Commissioner’s Office in Northern Ireland, has said she will involve herself personally in dealing with this latest issue:

“I have now spoken to the Chief Constable on a number of occasions about this issue. I have also visited police HQ to try and gain an understanding of the new system and how this happened.
In the meantime, I have also insisted that my staff become more directly involved in the search of police systems.   I personally intend to become more directly involved in oversight of these exercises where necessary.”

The Police Ombudsman has said this recent issue has again raised more long term questions about the provision of information about the past:

“I acknowledge that the PSNI have done considerable work in this area, but from discussions with police I accept that this is a much bigger task than they currently have resources for.

A complete inventory is needed of all its information systems and a better understanding of the types of material each holds if the proposed Historical Inquiries Unit and the wider criminal justice system is to benefit,” she said.

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