Promoting Justice /
Protecting Rights

Press statement: CAJ responds to the Police Ombudsman’s reports being held up by PSNI failure to disclose information

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) has said that a number of his reports into past killings, which may have involved collusion, will be delayed because of police failure to disclose information.

CAJ understands that new information on the activities of Loyalist murder squads has come to light. The PSNI claims that ‘human error’ meant that written and digital records from the 1980s and 1990s had not been disclosed. The information arises directly in relation to the Lower Ormeau Road bookmaker’s shop murders of 1992, but will affect other cases. The Ombudsman must now review these cases again, which will delay his reports.

CAJ represents the family of Patrick Shanaghan in one of the affected cases and is concerned and outraged at these new developments. Mr Shanaghan was murdered in 1991 after photographs identifying him ‘fell off the back of an army vehicle’.

The ‘Shanaghan v. the United Kingdom’ case (1) was among a number decided by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2001, in which the ECHR held that the UK violated the right to life (Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights). In response to these damning judgments, the UK said that the establishment of the office of the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland would be a mechanism to investigate police wrongdoing, such as that as outlined in the murder of Patrick Shanaghan.

The ECHR at the time stated that Mr Shanaghan’s murder, given the circumstances in which it occurred, was one that cried out for an explanation. 18 years later and once again the family face another obstacle in their search for the truth as to what happened to their brother.

The Police Ombudsman’s office relies on the PSNI acting in good faith to assist it in its investigations as RUC archive material remains within its control. These developments clearly expose the lack of willingness or capacity of the PSNI to provide full disclosure to the Police Ombudsman to allow him to carry out independent and effective investigations.

Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, said: “These developments are deeply worrying for three main reasons. First, what further light is to be shed on the activities of state agents who we already know imported arms from South Africa for Loyalist use, used illegal death squads to target perceived ‘enemies of the state’ and then tried to cover up their crimes?

“Second, we have complained for years that the PSNI was withholding information and delaying disclosure of top secret files in order to cover up the past crimes of RUC Special Branch officers. That this practice is still continuing is deeply shocking and the claim that it is due to ‘human error’ simply insults our intelligence.

“Third, we have recently seen a campaign of denigration of the work of the Ombudsman. The current Police Ombudsman, Michael Maguire, is due to step down from his post, possibly before the outstanding reports – now further delayed – can be published. We are aware that the Secretary of State is due to appoint his successor in the near future. CAJ started the process of criticism of lack of independence that finally led to the resignation of his predecessor, Al Hutchinson. We insist that, whoever is appointed, they maintain rigorously both the independence of the Ombudsman and his or her ability to publish case and thematic reports. The first test will be the publication of the outstanding reports.”

The family of Patrick Shanaghan have also released a separate statement, which can be read here.

Please direct media enquiries to Robyn Scott, Communications & Equality Coalition Coordinator. Email or call 028 9031 6000. CAJ Director Brian Gormally is available for interview.

(1) No. 37715/97, Shanaghan v. United Kingdom, judgment of 4 May 2001.

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