Press Release by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, (24 June 2011)
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Press Release by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, (24 June 2011)
LOUGHINISLAND INVESTIGATION LACKED DILIGENCE, BUT INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION: POLICE OMBUDSMAN.
Friday, 24 June 2011
The police investigation of the 1994 terrorist attack in Loughinisland lacked effective leadership and investigative diligence and has failed the families of those killed and injured.
There is insufficient evidence to support the view that these failures were as a result of a deliberate act by police to protect informants from the law.
These are the main findings from an investigation into allegations made to the Police Ombudsman's Office by the families of those killed in the attack and by those injured.
However, the Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has said that he acknowledges that the families of those killed and injured in the attack still believe there was collusion:
"I had a lengthy meeting with the families earlier this week, and I presented them with my findings. They still firmly believe that there was collusion. I acknowledge their belief and while there is reason to be suspicious over certain police actions I consider there is insufficient evidence to establish that collusion took place.
I listened to them very carefully and there are a number of issues, which they want to discuss with me further and we will do that in the coming days," he said.
The UVF gun attack at The Heights Bar on 18 June 1994 killed six people and injured a number of others. The car used in the attack was found abandoned in a field in Crossgar the following morning. Almost seven weeks later a holdall containing the clothing, weapons and ammunition believed to have been used in the attack, along with a rifle, were also found. Over the years, 16 people have been arrested (some more than once) in connection with the attack. No one has ever been convicted of the murders.
The Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, found a series of failings in the police investigation. Records are missing; the car used by terrorists should not have been destroyed in the manner that it was; and police failed to investigate properly the link between the Loughinisland shootings and other terrorist attacks. Failures in the management of the Murder Incident Room in the early stages and in the management of the computer system used by the investigation may also have resulted in the loss of evidential opportunities.
"These cumulatively indicate a lack of cohesive and focused effort over the years. The families have been failed by this intermittent focus and attention.
There are allegations that police protected informants, particularly people linked to the car used by the terrorists. Whilst I will neither confirm nor deny whether or not any individual was a police informant I am satisfied that no suspects were afforded protection as informants," said Mr Hutchinson.
The issues associated with the car used by the terrorists, including ownership details, formed a major part of the complaints made to the Police Ombudsman's Office.
The police established that the car had been advertised for sale in a newspaper on the evening prior to the attack and that four people had had possession of it in the previous seven weeks. The Police Ombudsman found that although police took statements from these four people during the first day of the investigation, they failed to analyse the content of the statements properly and did not identify potentially significant lines of enquiry.
The families have alleged in particular that the police inquiries relating to the car were not pursued rigorously due to the involvement of a police informant in its chain of ownership.
"There is insufficient evidence that any relationship, which may or may not have existed between the police and any other party, had a detrimental impact on the police investigation," said Mr Hutchinson.
Police Ombudsman Investigators established that the vehicle underwent both a detailed forensic examination and mechanical and electrical testing; was stored in a compound open to the elements at Saintfield RUC Station; and was then destroyed in April 1995 - 10 months after the attack.
The Police Ombudsman has said that there is no evidence that any authorisation was sought or given for the disposal of the car. He said that the disposal should not have taken place without the permission of the detective leading the Loughinisland investigation and that it cannot be determined whether this resulted in the loss of future evidential opportunities.
Mr Hutchinson said that there is no substance to an allegation that there was a link between a senior police officer at the station and those who had been arrested, or to an allegation that this link was behind the decision to dispose of the car:
"We found no evidence that the car was destroyed for any corrupt purpose or that its destruction was a collusive act," he said.
Police Ombudsman Investigators also examined an allegation that a serving police officer had been involved in the storage of vehicles used in the terrorist attack and had passed on details of a witness in the investigation to a member of the public. Both matters were investigated and have not resulted in any criminal or disciplinary proceedings against the officer.
The families have alleged that police failed to re-examine all the 177 exhibits recovered during the course of the investigation until after their complaint to the Police Ombudsman's Office. In commenting on the overall forensic strategy of the police investigation, the Police Ombudsman's Public Statement notes failures in the recording of some of the results of forensic examinations and a lack of consistency in the types of forensic samples taken from suspects.
"We have identified failings in the forensic strategy in respect of the recovered samples but there is no evidence that these failings have undermined the enquiry," said Mr Hutchinson.
The Police Ombudsman also noted that a bullet head embedded in the wood panelling in the Bar was not found for two years, but concluded that this oversight did not undermine the police investigation.
Following the discovery of the holdall and rifle it was established that the weapon used at Loughinisland was linked by ballistics to two other terrorist attacks and that one of the guns in the holdall was linked to three other attacks. The Police Ombudsman found that police failed to investigate these issues at an appropriate stage and in a timely manner.
Mr Hutchinson also found that police had failed to communicate effectively with the victims and survivors of the attack at the Heights Bar during the course of their investigation.
The Police Ombudsman has made three recommendations designed to reinvigorate the police investigation and which he hopes will help to regain the trust of the families.
Mr Hutchinson has also restated his view that Government and the community must find a better way to deal with The Past:
"Government and the community need to come to grips with their failure to find an agreed way to deal with The Past. This continual drip-feed of information provided by our lengthy, evidence-based investigations, looking at police actions from past decades, provides little comfort for families or the PSNI and, in many cases, little prospect of catching perpetrators of these horrendous crimes," he said.
See also the full report:
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