Police did not disclose sensitive information
Published Date: 14.02.2019
The Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has said his investigators have identified significant, sensitive information, some of which relates to covert policing, which is held by police but was not made available to his staff investigating events during ‘the Troubles’.
The discovery was made during its investigation of matters connected to the 1992 shooting at a bookmakers’ shop on the Ormeau Road in Belfast in which five people were killed.
The Office has said the material which has become available is such that it has now begun new lines of inquiry in that investigation; in its investigation of events connected to the activities of Loyalist paramilitaries in the north west between 1988 and 1994; and its investigation of matters linked to the murder of teenager Damien Walsh at a coal depot in west Belfast in 1993.
Police Ombudsman staff regularly made requests requiring police to search their appropriate information systems in order to provide all relevant information they held on specific matters.
A key part of their investigative processes is to consider all the material available on a given line of inquiry as a means of establishing a consistent and evidence-based understanding of the events in question.
Police Ombudsman investigators recently established police had not provided all the relevant information they held on the Ormeau Road shootings.
“My staff became aware that police were preparing to disclose a range of material as part of impending civil proceedings. Following a request from this Office, police released this material to us which helped identify significant evidence relevant to a number of our investigations.
“Following on from this, police have now also identified a computer system which they say had not been properly searched when responding to previous requests for information.
“In that instance, it would seem information which police told us did not exist has now been found,” said Dr Maguire.
Reports outlining the findings of these various investigations, which the Police Ombudsman had hoped to begin publishing in the coming weeks, will now be delayed.
A number of bereaved families have been informed.
“It is right and proper that we examine the material which has now become available to ensure that our work provides as complete a picture as possible for these families, for the public and for the police,” said Dr Maguire.
“We will do this work as quickly as we can, but these new lines of inquiry must be fully explored.”
Dr Maguire has said he believes the effective disclosure of information is central to any system for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.
“The public must have confidence that, when asked, police provide all the relevant information they hold on given matters, whether it be to this Office or to other legal authorities.
“The police have told us the problems came about through a combination of human error arising from a lack of knowledge and experience and the complex challenges associated with voluminous material (some 44 million pieces of paper and microfilm records) that is stored in various places and on a range of media and on archaic IT systems.
“In the interests of public confidence in policing, I have contacted the Department of Justice to ask that an independent review be carried out into the methods police use in disclosing information,” he said.