Families Slam Information Watchdog's Support of Police Ombudsman Withholding Collusion Evidence
Massacre Families Slam Information and Police Watchdogs for Withholding Collusion Evidence
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has upheld the Police Ombudsman’s decision to “Neither Confirm, Nor Deny” that it is withholding evidence of a secret agreement between the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to blame the victims of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre for the atrocity.
This vicious black propaganda persisted throughout the course of the Conflict and compounded the grief of the families.
15 civilians including two children were murdered in the no-warning Loyalist bomb attack on 4th December 1971. Even before all the victims were identified, the British state briefed the media with lies about the McGurk’s Bar Massacre and its innocent victims.
In 2018, a grandson of two of the victims discovered a previously undisclosed and high-level British Army Brigade file which proved that the Commander in charge of the British Army in Belfast, Brigadier Frank Kitson, and the RUC secretly agreed within hours of the explosion:
“RUC have a line that the bomb in the pub was a bomb designed to be used elsewhere, left in the pub to be picked up by the Provisional IRA. Bomb went off and was a mistake. RUC press office have a line on it – NI should deal with them.”
The same files proved that the British Armed Forces knew that witness evidence of a Loyalist attack on McGurk’s Bar was correct, but they still disseminated the lies that the Massacre was the result of a Republican “own-goal”.
The Police Ombudsman did not include proof of this secret agreement between the British Army and RUC to blame the innocent victims in its 2011 Public Statement and has refused to provide a supplementary report to reflect the significance of the new evidence.
In the 2011 report, the Police Ombudsman referred to RUC lies in a Duty Officers’ Report seven hours later (at 8:00 am, 5th December 1971):
“The Police Ombudsman’s investigation has been unable to establish the precise source of the information on which the author of the Duty Officers’ Report relied.” (p. 62, 8.20)
“There are no records fully explaining the police rationale for linking the IRA ‘own-goal’ theory to the seat of the explosion being inside the bar.” (p. 62, 8.23)
The grandson’s new evidence proved that the source of the cover-up was the secret agreement between the RUC and Kitson so, in August 2021, he issued a simple request for information from the Police Ombudsman under the Freedom of Information Act 2001:
“1. Could you confirm that Office of the Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland (OPONI) has considered this evidence and when OPONI considered it as I see no record of it in its 2011 report into the massacre?
2. If OPONI has considered and investigated, could you provide me with the background information to this secret agreement between the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary relating the bombing of McGurk’s Bar, please?”
OPONI withheld the information and said it would “Neither Confirm, Nor Deny” it had this critical evidence of police and British Army collusion. The ICO upheld this decision.
The grandson, Ciarán MacAirt, said:
“This is an outrageous response by a public authority that does nothing but retraumatize our families as we prepare to commemorate another dreadful anniversary. 51 years after the Massacre, and they are still covering it up.”
“Either the Police Ombudsman did not have access to this critical evidence of collusion between the infamous General Sir Frank Kitson (retired), the British Army, and RUC; or it had discovered it but buried it again - the Police Ombudsman in 2011 did not publish it in the report nor tell the families.”
“This is a simple request for information, but the Police Ombudsman is wilfully withholding it from us. I believe that it is because it completely undermines her Office’s 2011 report and her subsequent failure to investigate. Where collusion ends and incompetence begins is anyone’s guess until our families receive a proper Article 2 compliant investigation into the McGurk’s Bar Massacre.”
Christopher Stanley of KRW LAW LLP said:
“Access to information is a vital element of the truth and reconciliation process core to the out-workings of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. Truth recovery and information-retrieval should be facilitated by the UK Freedom of Information regime. But at every turn, relatives and those who seek to assist them in their quest for knowledge about the loss of loved ones are blocked. FOIA, in terms of the conflict, does exactly what those who hold information require it to do – be it OPONI, PSNI or MOD – it applies ‘exemptions’ almost without exception.”
“Whilst civil litigation seeks the same information by way of discovery, and inquests by disclosure, the FOIA regime spends vast amounts of time and money in denying ordinary families access to information to violent events which are now historic.”
“The ’NCND’ exemption is a blanket ‘policy’ which has been criticised by senior judges. The ICO in this example, and others, has never engaged in any form of reasoning or justification to defend the application of NCND to material similar to that requested in this application.”
“The proposed Legacy Bill will only serve to screw down the hatches on archives even tighter. The effect will be only to stoke the suspicion of what there is to hide and deny.”
- This follows a number of family protests at the Office of the Police Ombudsman for the release of the critical evidence. See here >>
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