The debris of McGurk's bar in North Queen Street, Belfast, where 15 people died when a bomb blast reduced the building to a heap of rubble. Press Association Images

Ombudsman’s report critical of investigation into McGurk’s bombing

The Police Ombudsman has said an “investigative bias” led to the wrong parties being accused of perpetrating the atrocity – which resulted in the deaths of 15 people, including two children.

Updated: 15.45

IN A REPORT released today, Northern Ireland’s Police Ombudsman has criticised the police investigation into the bombing of a Belfast pub that killed 15 people, including two children, 40 years ago.

Al Hutchinson revealed his report this afternoon, which looked into the reaction of the authorities to the bombing of McGurk’s bar in December 1971. The attack resulted in the single biggest loss of life during the Troubles until the Omagh bomb of 1998.

The bombing was originally blamed on republicans, however it later emerged that loyalists had been responsible. It was revealed that the perpetrators had been planning to attack a nearby pub but decided against it and abandoned the explosives outside McGurk’s, reports RTÉ.

The owner of the bar, Pat McGurk, lost his wife and 12-year-old daughter in the bombing. He died in 2007, after publicly announcing that he forgave those responsible for the atrocity.

Hutchinson said in his report that, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the then-RUC had failed to give proper attention to the possibility of loyalist paramilitaries being involved. He said that this was because of an “investigative bias”, reports the BBC.

The reports also criticised the treatment of the bereaved in the aftermath of the bombing, as it had been implied that the victims had been somehow to blame. Hutchinson said that the failures of the police has undermined “both the investigation and any confidence the bereaved families had in obtaining justice”.

Hutchinson reported that incorrect information was passed from the investigators to the British prime minister at the time and to the minister for Home Affairs at Stormont, John Taylor. As a result, Taylor then announced that IRA was responsible for the attack.

He also says that two men suspected of being involved with IRA activities were wrongly accused of having links to the bombing – and that despite the conviction of a UVF member, Robert Campbell, investigators had failed to check for further loyalist involvement.

However, Hutchinson said that the failings of the police did not amount to collusion, reports RTÉ.

He has called on the Chief Constable of the PSNI to ensure that the investigation into the attack is thorough and complete, and to recognise the pain caused by the failures of the police investigation to the families of the victims. He said: “I call again on different levels of government and community to redouble their efforts to find a better way to deal with the past”.