NIO accused of interfering with Police Ombudsman office

Al Hutchinson Al Hutchinson was appointed police ombudsman in 2007

The Northern Ireland Office has been accused of interfering in the appointment of the Police Ombudsman.

A report published by the human rights group, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, has listed concerns over the independence of the office.

The NIO said that the appointment of Al Hutchinson in 2007 was fully compliant with the rules.

Whilst, the Police Ombudsman Office said the review was "not balanced".

Speaking at the publication of the report on Thursday CAJ Director Mike Ritchie said he believed the ombudsman's office was not "fit for purpose".

He also said it had "discovered irregularities in the appointment process", for the post.

However, an NIO spokesperson said the organisation would look at the report.

"We are clear that the competition to appoint the Police Ombudsman in 2007 was fully compliant with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA) Code of Practice," she said.

"An OCPA representative was involved at each stage of the process and signed a certificate confirming it was fully compliant. No additional criteria were added during the appointment process."

'Attack'

The CAJ report was also highly critical of the way the ombudsman office operates, including how it deals with historic cases.

It accused the office of failing to hold police to account for incidents during the Troubles and criticised the length of time it took to investigate cases.

"In total, what we are saying is there are serious questions about the operation," Mr Ritchie said.

"There are recommendations that need to be addressed. Whether it is him (Mr Hutchinson) who addresses them or someone else is not our call."

He said the report was not a personal attack on Mr Hutchinson and he was not calling for his resignation.

"But what we are saying is there are eight fairly serious recommendations and we would like to see movement on all of them," said Mr Ritchie.

In a statement, the Police Ombudsman Office said: "It is clear that the report does not include a balanced view of the issues surrounding the investigation of historical matters, nor reflect the structural changes implemented to allow the office to deal with the doubling of historic cases in the past three years."

The office said issues relating to the appointment process, salary and benefits, and security vetting, was a matter for the Northern Ireland Office or Department of Justice.

The CAJ review into independence of the office began last August after concerns were raised by families of victims of the Troubles.

Mr Hutchinson is already facing two investigations into allegations that the independence of his office has been compromised.

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