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Saturday 18 November 2017

Police 'failed' families of Loughinisland pub shooting, report reveals

The scene inside O'Toole's Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down following the shooting. Photo: PA
The scene inside O'Toole's Bar in Loughinisland, Co Down following the shooting. Photo: PA

Michael McHugh and reporters

There were a catalogue of police failings following a loyalist pub shooting in Northern Ireland which killed six men, an independent investigation has found.

Records went missing, the car used by the terrorists should not have been destroyed the way it was and detectives failed to properly probe the link between the shootings at Loughinisland, Co Down, and other attacks, police ombudsman Al Hutchinson said.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) killings happened in the tiny rural village as drinkers watched the Republic of Ireland play Italy during the 1994 World Cup.

Although the families of the victims still firmly believe there was collusion between police and the gunmen, the ombudsman said there was insufficient evidence to establish that took place.

The ombudsman said: "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."

Hutchinson looked at the police inquiry into the atrocity at The Heights Bar after families of the dead men criticised the original investigation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary - the Northern Ireland police force at that time - in 2006.

The investigation was prompted by claims linking at least one alleged security force agent to the gang which murdered their loved ones.

In his 56-page report Hutchinson has used a narrower definition of collusion than previous inquiries by Sir John Stephens, Judge Peter Cory and former ombudsman Nuala O'Loan.

His office was strongly criticised by human rights group the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) last week. It claimed the ombudsman's use of varied definitions of collusion, which have altered from case to case, had left its impartiality open to question.

Last year, the ombudsman said it was time for society to begin a discussion about what constitutes collusion.

In today's report he said to declare collusion had happened there must be sufficient evidence of a conscious and deliberate act or omission, through which police officers intended to assist offenders either in committing a crime or in evading detection or apprehension.

The ombudsman found that the car used by the killers had been crushed 10 months after the event rather than being kept as evidence. But he could uncover no evidence that a car allegedly connected with the attack was stored at any time in premises belonging to a police officer or that it was destroyed for any corrupt purpose.

Other findings included:

:: The initial actions of the police in responding to the shootings, crime scene management, vehicle recovery and forensic examinations were appropriate, despite minor failings in the recovery of a cartridge and bullet head. These did not undermine the subsequent police investigation.

:: The initial administration of the major incident room and computer system was poor, with evidence of computer system flaws in linking separate incidents across police force boundaries, leading to investigative opportunities being missed.

:: Individual failings included missing records and exhibits.

The report said: "These cumulatively indicate a lack of a cohesive and focused effort over the years."

It added scientific advances had provided fresh opportunities, which were taken. But an attempt made by a new senior investigating officer in 2005/6 to regain some focus has not been sustained.

"The families have been failed by this intermittent focus and attention," the report added.

There are allegations that informants were protected by the police, particularly in relation to the stolen car which was recovered.

The report said: "There is no evidence that the police colluded with those responsible for the attack in any of the other matters examined in this investigation."

It said police had failed to communicate effectively with victims and survivors.

The report's recommendations were: that police work to re-establish communications with relatives; that a full major crime review should be carried out of the murder investigation and that Chief Constable Matt Baggott should ensure that sufficient resources were made available to pursue fully any investigative opportunities.

Relatives have said they were particularly concerned about the original investigation.

Victim Barney Green, 87, was one of the oldest people to be murdered during the Troubles.

The others who died were Adrian Rogan, 34, Daniel McCreanor, 59, Eamon Byrne, 39, his brother-in-law Patrick O'Hare, 35, and 53-year-old Malcolm Jenkinson.

Hutchinson's office has been hit by controversy in recent months. A review into allegations of interference at the Police Ombudsman's office is ongoing.

Chief executive Sam Pollock resigned after claiming the office's independence had been undermined by meddling from senior civil servants.

The police said they accepted the ombudsman's recommendations.

"Police remain firmly committed to apprehending those responsible for these murders. The latest review process is being progressed commensurate with competing demands caused by an escalating terrorist campaign and more recent murder investigations," they said.

"Detectives have devoted significant resources to date to this review and our efforts to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion, where the guilty are made amenable, will continue."

SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said there had been collusion and called for Hutchinson to resign.

"Al Hutchinson paints a picture of an incompetent Keystone Kops-type of police force when the reality was that the RUC and Special Branch were rotten to the core," she said.

Sinn Fein MLA Caitriona Ruane said: "If ever there was a case which demonstrated collusion it is the murders at Loughinisland.

"That is the only conclusion which can be reached, even from the information put in the public domain today by the Ombudsman.

"His failure to reach that very obvious conclusion on the basis of the evidence in front of him is a matter which he needs to explain."

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