Police Ombudsman Fiasco

The release and abortion of the Police Ombudsman’s report (8.7.10) into the Royal Ulster Constabulary’s (RUC) investigation of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre was an ill-conceived, unmitigated fiasco. The report and their media stage-management was Kafkaesque at its most benign.

The Police Ombudsman railroaded our families, many of whom are aged, into this very public miscarriage. Without reference to any of them or respect for their very human grief and fears that this process was seriously flawed, Mr. Al Hutchinson tried to bury this report before Orangefest.

His office’s treatment of the families who collected the report at an allotted time merely added grievous insult to injury. These are bereaved relatives who have fought constitutionally and with dignity for nearly four decades for the truth and have waited patiently for over four years for this so-called investigation to conclude.

Thankfully, it was a desk-top review, riddled with so many grave blunders that Mr. Hutchinson could do nothing but retract it. To his detriment, he had also underestimated the resilience and fluency of ordinary families in their management of information distribution channels and the media.

Not only has this debacle highlighted glaring problems in the Ombudsman’s standard operating procedures, but also crises in the organisation itself.

It is true that the Ombudsman’s office is under-staffed and under-funded. It is also true that the choice between policing the past and and policing the future is stark.

Nevertheless, neither surprise this author. The Police Ombudsman’s office, regardless of the fanfare of so-called independence, is a British organisation set up partly to review the excesses of a British police force in the past. As far as these legacy cases are concerned it is reviewing a police force that surrendered itself to British military primacy. Its remit, though, does not include investigation of this military so it is immediately stunted and powerless. Why would a so-called democratic, first world, western country wish to fund or empower any organisation to uncover evidence that it, in effect, killed its own citizens, controlled the media and misdirected a malleable police force?

A sizeable section of the public also believe that the past is past and should be consigned to there, especially in these trying economic times. Nevertheless, this is not simply about closure for fellow human beings. History informs the present and, from it, future generations learn its mores and moral obligations. If we do not uncover the abuses now, this rogue British state will be free to violate human rights any time, anywhere in the world.

Emotions aside, I believe that the damage done to any credibility the Ombudsman had is irreparable. In any other walk-of-life, this lack of professionalism, this shambolic incompetence, would be disciplined as negligence. The same performance tests that apply in the real world should resonate here too.

Mr. Hutchinson now pays lip-service to our anguish and disquiet but I believe it is too late. I think that it matters little whether this report is corrected and published or not. If he alters it, then commentators could argue viably that he reacted to undue family pressure. If he does not, then it is yet another body blow to the bereaved. Neither outcome assures the public of his office’s impartiality or effectiveness. Neither helps our campaign for truth satisfactorily.

What we need is a truly international, independent and transparent investigation with powers of subpoena. No British organisation will be empowered to give us the truth concerning a British war crime.

Therefore, I for one have no confidence whatsoever in anything Mr. Hutchinson wants to say or any duty his office performs.

Police Ombudsman Fiasco in the News

What other family members had to say:

“It smacks of the police trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility for any wrong-doing” – Patrick McGurk to the BBC: report here

“It’s the proper thing to do for the ombudsman to take this report back and have a look at it seriously” – Alex McLaughlin to the BBC: report here

“This is a slap in the face for the victims’ families” – Gerard Keenan in the Belfast Telegraph: report here

“This was the mass murder of fifteen innocent victims whose good names and reputations have been tarnished for the past forty years by those who… were supposed uphold the rule of law, not manipulate the facts for their own twisted political ends” – Pat Irvine to the North Belfast News (Aine McEntee, 10.7.2010)

“We need a full, independent investigation into what happened, not a report which is basically old police officers investigating old police officers” – Robert McClenaghan to the Andersonstown News.

What the politicians said:

“It is now necessary for the Prime Minister to apologize directly to the families for the monumental act of deceit” – SDLP’s Justice spokesperson and MLA, Alban Magennis: report here.

“It has caused justifiable anger and it is only right that the Ombudsman bins this deeply-flawed report” – Sinn Féin’s North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly.

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