Northern Ireland

PSNI officer who protested use of term 'collusion' re-employed

Claudy bombings
Image caption The aftermath of the Claudy bombings in July 1972

A retired senior police officer who urged the police ombudsman not to use the term collusion in a report last year, has been re-employed by the PSNI to help it deal with the past.

The former acting assistant chief constable retired earlier this year with a Patten redundancy package.

The BBC has learned that the officer wrote to Al Hutchinson over a report into the 1972 Claudy bombing.

He protested about the proposed use of the term collusion.

Nine people were killed in the attack when three IRA car bombs exploded without warning.

The report said the police had colluded with the Catholic Church to cover up the suspected role of a priest.

The letter to the ombudsman was written by Mark McDowell, who at the time was acting assistant chief constable.

He told the ombudsman the PSNI took great issue with the use of the term collusion and criticised the way in which it had been used by the previous ombudsman Nuala O'Loan - something which, he said, had undermined the credibility of RUC special branch.

Pointing out that Mr Hutchinson had himself acknowledged that there was no single accepted definition of collusion, he asked what was the point of using it at all.

He went on to say: "Surely the police ombudsman has a public responsibility" to refrain from using what he called loosely defined language which may be widely misinterpreted.

Mrs O'Loan rejected that criticism during an interview for a BBC Spotlight programme which examined the work of the Ombudsman's office.

"That is clearly untrue. I actually didn't for that reason develop my own definition of collusion.

Image caption Mr McDowell wrote to Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson

"I used the definitions used by Judge (Peter) Cory and Lord Stephens, both of which set the framework very well for examination of police behaviour.

"There is a duty on the police ombudsman to examine that behaviour, because collusion is a form of corruption."

The letter angered the former chief executive for the Police Ombudsman, who retired early after claiming there had been a lowering of the office's independence.

Speaking in an interview for Spotlight, Sam Pollock said: "It was a very significant letter and i would have described it as outrageous.

"It was an attack on the independence of the office as well as a very inappropriate attack on the previous ombudsman."

Rehired

Mr McDowell retired from the police earlier this year with a redundancy package.

BBC Newsline has learned that he has since been re-hired to work for the PSNI's Legacy branch.

It deals with the past - including requests from investigators working for the police ombudsman.

On Tuesday, the PSNI said the suggestion that it attempted to undermine the independence of the police ombudsman's office was incorrect as the contents of all published reports is a matter for the ombudsman alone.

It said the letter to Al Hutchinson had been sent "with the full authority of the Command Team".

The statement went on to say the PSNI has a responsibility to challenge matters of fact and inaccuracies in any report produced by the ombudsman's office, and pointed out that in the vast majority of cases it has agreed with recommendations made by the ombudsman.

Regarding the employment of former police officers, the PSNI said it recruits all staff in accordance with current employment legislation.

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