NI Ombudsman Office given families' letters of concern

Sam Pollock Sam Pollock was the chief executive of the Police Ombudsman's office for over a decade

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The Police Ombudsman's Office has said it has received a number of letters from victims' families following a BBC Spotlight documentary on Tuesday.

The programme revealed details of tensions within the office which led to the resignation of former chief executive Sam Pollock.

Mr Pollock has called on the ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, to step down at once.

The letters delivered on Wednesday express concern at the office's ability to probe deaths during the Troubles.

A spokesperson for the office said this area of work had been the subject of a recent report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate and it was now reviewing relevant processes.

"The inspectorate has acknowledged that our our new approach, when fully implemented, will provide a robust model for dealing with the past," the spokesperson added.

"Meanwhile, the main body of our work, which involves dealing with more than 3000 complaints a year about modern policing, will continue as normal.

"There is a high level of public confidence in this part of our work."

'Fix it quickly'

Mr Pollock resigned in April because he had lost confidence in the direction and independence of the office.

He held his post for over 10 years.

Mr Hutchinson has confirmed that he will step down next year, earlier than planned, but Mr Pollock told the BBC's Spotlight programme that he should go immediately.

"Until recently I had urged Mr Hutchinson to fix what was wrong and to fix it quickly," he said.

"I'd even urged the minister to support the Police Ombudsman in ensuring that it was fixed quickly.

"Now I feel let down by so much of what's happened, I would have to say on a personal level and on a professional level, I think he should resign."

Mr Pollock announced his resignation in March, claiming the independence of the office has been lowered.

In a letter explaining his decision to quit his £90,000 a year job, he claimed that there had been political interference in the work of the office, and a lowering of operational independence between it and the PSNI.

Spotlight found failings in Police Ombudsman investigations into complaints about three murders

  • John Larmour - The RUC constable was shot dead in south Belfast in 1988.The Police Ombudsman's office upheld a complaint in 2008 by his son, Gavin, that the police did not carry out a proper investigation. Al Hutchinson's report also said that not all information available to the police was given to the detectives trying to find the killer but it failed to tell him that the information was withheld to protect an informer.
  • Eugene Dalton - One of three people who was killed by an IRA bomb in the Creggan area of Londonderry in 1988. The Dalton family have said they have no confidence in the ombudsman investigation. A draft report into the bombing said there was evidence that the police knew about the bomb in advance but failed to warn the public. That report was later changed to say police did not know about the bomb.
  • Denis Donaldson - The self-confessed republican informer was shot dead at a remote cottage in Donegal in April 2006. The ombudsman declared the case closed in 2010 with a finding of 'no misconduct' by the police. Spotlight established that investigators were not aware of a potentially vital piece of information that may shed light on what happened in Donegal, a journal he was writing about his life. Investigators also failed to interview a special branch handler Mr Donaldson's family believe may have information about what happened.

Mr Pollock's allegations led to two separate inquiries.

'Conflict'

He told the Spotlight programme why he felt he had to leave his job.

"I sensed, in the end, a dilemma, or a conflict, in terms of dealing with the whole issue of informants," said Mr Pollock.

"To speak about the involvement of an informant either directly or indirectly in murder, the loss of life, some atrocities, you cannot fudge that."

The programme also uncovered failings in a number of investigations by the ombudsman.

Mr Hutchinson rejected claims that his office has gone soft on the police.

"I can assure everybody that we do deliver independent, impartial, evidence-based reports," said Mr Hutchinson.

"And whether that is perceived by the public or is not is certainly a matter of debate."

In September, a report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate said the office's operational independence had been lowered, and that Mr Hutchinson had lost the trust of senior colleagues.

Following the report's publication, Mr Hutchison announced he would be stepping down as Police Ombudsman earlier than planned, next June.

It was the third highly critical report to be published into the work of the organisation.

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