Northern Ireland

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

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.

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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