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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 21 October, 2014

NI Police Ombudsman ‘becoming less independent’ – report

The Criminal Justice Inspection publishes a report saying the police ombudsman’s office has been undermined by its work in high-profile cases.

The office of Northern Ireland's Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson (pictured) has become less independent as a result of outside lobbying, according to a new report.
The office of Northern Ireland's Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson (pictured) has become less independent as a result of outside lobbying, according to a new report.
Image: Paul Faith/PA Archive

THE OFFICE OF Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman has been attacked by the report of an independent watchdog, which claimed the office was becoming less independent.

Criminal Justice Inspection NI’s report, carried out on the Ombudsman’s request, found that the work of the Ombudsman’s office was being “influenced and buffeted” by feedback from the PSNI and from other groups.

The input and lobbying of police officers themselves, families, legal representatives and non-governmental organisations was influencing the office’s work and resulting in “flawed investigative processes”, the report said.

CJI chief inspector Michael Maguire’s report said “sensitive, complex and high-profile historical cases” were liable to be influenced by those outside bodies.

“This has led to a lack of confidence in how the investigate processes are managed within OPONI, and an inconsistent approach to how families are brief on the investigation findings,” Maguire said.

The report also underlined what it described as “serious divisions” within staffing in the upper echelons of the Ombudsman’s office, which it said was affecting the office’s overall operations, and also identified issues with the handling of sensitive materials which has led to a feeling of mistrust among police investigators.

The report outlines six recommendations for the office aimed at addressing the issues noted.

Hutchinson said he welcomed the findings of the “professional” report, and had moved to address the areas of concern underlined by the document.

“I particularly welcome the fact that the report places a spotlight on the larger issue of society should deal with the wider unresolved legacy issues arising from The Troubles’,” he said.

He said his office had been briefed on the report’s main findings earlier in the summer, and had begun to address them already.

“My staff – many of whom have been with the Office since it opened – are fiercely independent of mind. Some of them have expressed concerns that our processes are still not as good as they could be. We are now working to improve on these processes,” he commented.

Read the independent report in full (PDF) >

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