Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman's office at odds with Criminal Justice Inspectorate

Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson
Image caption Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has pledged to leave his role next June

The BBC understands the Police Ombudsman's office has withdrawn part of a statement it gave following a BBC Spotlight documentary.

It said the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) acknowledged its review on Troubles-related investigations, when implemented, would provide a robust model for dealing with the past.

The BBC understands the CJI maintains it made no such acknowledgement.

It has been retracted by the ombudsman.

The Spotlight documentary looked at the circumstances leading up to the decision by Sam Pollock, the former chief executive of the Police Ombudsman, to step down.

It also uncovered evidence of failings in several historical investigations led by the ombudsman, Al Hutchinson.

On Wednesday, the ombudsman's office released a statement in response.

It said that following a recent report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate it had reviewed its processes regarding Troubles-related investigations.

It then went on to say that the inspectorate had acknowledged that its new approach, when fully implemented, would provide a robust model for dealing with the past.

Retracted

However when contacted by the BBC, the CJI got in touch with the ombudsman office.

Following contact between the two bodies, the ombudsman's office then agreed to retract that element of the statement.

The BBC understands that the CJI made it clear that it had never given such an acknowledgement.

On Wednesday, Deputy First Minister John O'Dowd called Mr Hutchinson to resign immediately.

He was echoing a call made by the former chief executive of the ombudsman's office, Sam Pollock, in the BBC Spotlight documentary on Tuesday.

The programme revealed details of tensions within the office which led to Mr Pollock's resignation.

Mr O'Dowd revealed he had discussions about Mr Hutchinson's future with First Minister Peter Robinson on Wednesday.

Mr Hutchinson has already said that he will leave his role next June.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister has the power to dismiss him, but Mr O'Dowd said Mr Hutchinson should pre-empt such a move by going at once.

"Al Hutchinson no longer has any positive role to play in reshaping policing in this society," he said.

"Every day he remains in office he is damaging the credibility of a very important part to the new beginning to policing in this society."

Mr O'Dowd said he would be having further discussions with Mr Robinson on Thursday.

Mr Hutchinson's predecessor as Police Ombudsman, Baroness Nuala O'Loan was also critical of the performance of the office but did not go as far as calling for his resignation.

Independent

"I think that is a matter for Mr Hutchison and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister," she said.

"What I am really, really concerned about is how do you get the office back running as an efficient, independent, civilian, oversight body for policing in Northern Ireland?

"I think the question is how do we solve the problem quickly, what would enable the office to get up and running again and I think the ombudsman will be thinking about those things very seriously tonight."

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.

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

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the ombudsman's office said: "Following the broadcast of last night's television programme, a number of families who had made complaints to us about cases involving deaths during the Troubles left letters into our offices this morning.

"Their concerns largely go to the issue of confidence in our ability to investigate matters from the past.

"We are working to revise our procedures in this area."

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

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

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