Northern Ireland

Leaked report criticises Police Ombudsman's office

Al Hutchinson
Image caption Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has come in for further criticism

A leaked report into the workings of the police ombudsman's office has outlined a number of criticisms over its performance.

The draft CJI report, leaked to website The Detail, is the third review to raise concerns over the effectiveness of the body this year.

Among the new criticisms are claims that Al Hutchinson has lost the trust of his senior investigators.

Sinn Fein have again called for Mr Hutchinson to resign.

The report is with the Department of Justice ahead of publication.

Mr Hutchinson has not commented on the report but has previously defended his office against criticism from other reports.

The Criminal Justice Inspectorate report said allegations of police wrongdoing during the Troubles may not have been fully and properly investigated.

The Police Ombudsman had requested the report from the CJI assessing the office's independence from the police after two previous investigations were critical of the body.

In June, an independent review of the police ombudsman's office by the chair of the Community Relations Council said Mr Hutchinson's "weak leadership" undermined the effectiveness of the body.

The Committee for the Administration of Justice also questioned the independence of the office and accused the Northern Ireland Office of interfering in the appointment of Mr Hutchinson.

Victim's campaigners have called for Mr Hutchinson's resignation following the questions posed by the draft report.

A spokesman for the police ombudsman's office said there would be no comment on a report which it believed was still in draft form.

Unhealthy tension

The chair of the Justice Committee at Stormont, Paul Givan, has not ruled out calling a special meeting to discuss the report and ongoing criticism of the police ombudsman, but also urged caution in reaction to its findings.

"The report should be made public in full because I am conscious that things can be leaked and we do not always see the full picture," the DUP MLA said.

"I think it is important on such a serious issue that we get the holistic view before people rush into judgements of the suitability of Al Hutchinson continuing in his post."

Mr Givan did, however, suggest that Mr Hutchinson's involvement in investigating Troubles events was causing issues.

"It does raise the broader issue of how do we deal with the past. There is no doubt the ombudsman's office having a role in looking at past historical events is creating problems for the functioning of the office," he said.

"We have the Historical Enquiries Team, we have the ombudsman's office, we have the attorney general, all looking at past historical events.

"I think we need to pool all that together and have one particular body taking that forward and releasing the ombudsman's office from looking into past events so that they can concentrate on assessing the police currently carrying out their job, as opposed to trying to analysis events that took place some 30 or 40 years ago.

"The role of investigating past events when the RUC was in place, I think creates a tension which is very unhealthy for the ombudman's office."

Sinn Fein spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly repeated the party's demand for Al Hutchinson to go and called for the immediate publication of the report.

"Public confidence in the Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson is already at rock bottom and it is important that swift action is taken to restore the credibility of this crucially important policing structure," he said.

"If the leaked detail contained in this report is true, it is clear that the removal of Mr Hutchinson, necessary as that is, will in itself not suffice.

"It seems that this report has uncovered a series of deep failures."

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