Ombudsman report on Loughinisland killings report inconclusive

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‘LOUGHINISLAND INVESTIGATION LACKED DILIGENCE, BUT INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE
OF COLLUSION’: POLICE OMBUDSMAN.

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.

These are the main findings from an investigation into allegations made
to the Police Ombudsman’s Office by the families of those killed in the
attack and by those injured.

However, the Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson has said that he
acknowledges that the families of those killed and injured in the attack
still believe there was collusion:

“I had a lengthy meeting with the families earlier this week, and I
presented them with my findings. They still firmly believe that there
was collusion. I acknowledge their belief and while there is reason to
be suspicious over certain police actions I consider there is
insufficient evidence to establish that collusion took place.

I listened to them very carefully and there are a number of issues,
which they want to discuss with me further and we will do that in the
coming days,” he said.

The UVF gun attack at The Heights Bar on 18 June 1994 killed six people
and injured a number of others. The car used in the attack was found
abandoned in a field in Crossgar the following morning. Almost seven
weeks later a holdall containing the clothing, weapons and ammunition
believed to have been used in the attack, along with a rifle, were also
found. Over the years, 16 people have been arrested (some more than
once) in connection with the attack. No one has ever been convicted of
the murders.

The Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, found a series of failings in the
police investigation. Records are missing; the car used by terrorists
should not have been destroyed in the manner that it was; and police
failed to investigate properly the link between the Loughinisland
shootings and other terrorist attacks. Failures in the management of the
Murder Incident Room in the early stages and in the management of the
computer system used by the investigation may also have resulted in the
loss of evidential opportunities.

“These cumulatively indicate a lack of cohesive and focused effort over
the years. The families have been failed by this intermittent focus and
attention.

There are allegations that police protected informants, particularly
people linked to the car used by the terrorists. Whilst I will neither
confirm nor deny whether or not any individual was a police informant I
am satisfied that no suspects were afforded protection as informants,”
said Mr Hutchinson.

The issues associated with the car used by the terrorists, including
ownership details, formed a major part of the complaints made to the
Police Ombudsman’s Office.

The police established that the car had been advertised for sale in a
newspaper on the evening prior to the attack and that four people had
had possession of it in the previous seven weeks. The Police Ombudsman
found that although police took statements from these four people during
the first day of the investigation, they failed to analyse the content
of the statements properly and did not identify potentially significant
lines of enquiry.

The families have alleged in particular that the police inquiries
relating to the car were not pursued rigorously due to the involvement
of a police informant in its chain of ownership.

“There is insufficient evidence that any relationship, which may or may
not have existed between the police and any other party, had a
detrimental impact on the police investigation,” said Mr Hutchinson.

Police Ombudsman Investigators established that the vehicle underwent
both a detailed forensic examination and mechanical and electrical
testing; was stored in a compound open to the elements at Saintfield RUC
Station; and was then destroyed in April 1995 – 10 months after the
attack.

The Police Ombudsman has said that there is no evidence that any
authorisation was sought or given for the disposal of the car. He said
that the disposal should not have taken place without the permission of
the detective leading the Loughinisland investigation and that it cannot
be determined whether this resulted in the loss of future evidential
opportunities.

Mr Hutchinson said that there is no substance to an allegation that
there was a link between a senior police officer at the station and
those who had been arrested, or to an allegation that this link was
behind the decision to dispose of the car:

“We found no evidence that the car was destroyed for any corrupt purpose
or that its destruction was a collusive act,” he said.

Police Ombudsman Investigators also examined an allegation that a
serving police officer had been involved in the storage of vehicles used
in the terrorist attack and had passed on details of a witness in the
investigation to a member of the public. Both matters were investigated
and have not resulted in any criminal or disciplinary proceedings
against the officer.

The families have alleged that police failed to re-examine all the 177
exhibits recovered during the course of the investigation until after
their complaint to the Police Ombudsman’s Office. In commenting on the
overall forensic strategy of the police investigation, the Police
Ombudsman’s Public Statement notes failures in the recording of some of
the results of forensic examinations and a lack of consistency in the
types of forensic samples taken from suspects.

“We have identified failings in the forensic strategy in respect of the
recovered samples but there is no evidence that these failings have
undermined the enquiry,” said Mr Hutchinson.

The Police Ombudsman also noted that a bullet head embedded in the wood
panelling in the Bar was not found for two years, but concluded that
this oversight did not undermine the police investigation.

Following the discovery of the holdall and rifle it was established that
the weapon used at Loughinisland was linked by ballistics to two other
terrorist attacks and that one of the guns in the holdall was linked to
three other attacks. The Police Ombudsman found that police failed to
investigate these issues at an appropriate stage and in a timely manner.

Amongst his other findings, the Police Ombudsman said that the police
had demonstrated significant efforts to arrests suspects through the
arrest of 16 people during the course of the investigation.

Mr Hutchinson also found that police had failed to communicate
effectively with the victims and survivors of the attack at the Heights
Bar during the course of their investigation.

The Police Ombudsman has made three recommendations designed to
reinvigorate the police investigation and which he hopes will help to
regain the trust of the families.

Mr Hutchinson has also restated his view that Government and the
community must find a better way to deal with The Past:

“Government and the community need to come to grips with their failure
to find an agreed way to deal with The Past. This continual drip-feed of
information provided by our lengthy, evidence-based investigations,
looking at police actions from past decades, provides little comfort for
families or the PSNI and, in many cases, little prospect of catching
perpetrators of these horrendous crimes,” he said.


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