BAGGOTT IN THE DOCK OVER 60 MURDER CASES LINKED TO POLICE INFORMANTS

Six men died when UVF gunmen raked The Heights bar in Loughinisland in June 1994.

Six men died when UVF gunmen raked The Heights bar in Loughinisland in June 1994.

PSNI Chief Constable is facing court action after the Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire accused him of obstructing investigations into 60 murders.

The Ombudsman wants to force the outgoing chief constable to hand over sensitive PSNI intelligence material relating to ongoing investigations.

One the cases involves the UVF Loughinisland massacre in 1994 when six men were shot dead at Heights Bar during the World Cup.

At least one, if not three, of those involved in the planning and preparation for the attack were RUC Special Branch informants at the time, including the Catholic man who supplied the car Terry Fairfield, codenamed ‘The Mechanic’.

It is believed to be the first time the office of the Police Ombudsman has taken such drastic measures.

His office says it the last straw after receiving 100 refusals for information by the PSNI.

Dr Maguire says the information is necessary but claims Matt Baggott is making it impossible to investigate allegations of serious criminal activity and misconduct.

“At this point in time, the police have refused us access to 100 pieces of information involving investigations surrounding in the region of 60 murders,” he told the BBC.

“I find that unacceptable and we have no other choice but to take legal action against the chief constable.

“We’re talking about complex investigations into over 60 murders where there have been allegations of police criminality and misconduct in relation to their failure to investigate those murders; the fact that they may well have been protecting individuals involved in those murders.

“Answering those questions requires access to quite a range of intelligence and other sensitive material. I need access to that in order to be able to come to a view, in order to determine whether they are right or not.”

The ombudsman said the problem had emerged in recent months.

He has launched legal action against Mr Baggott after the PSNI failed to meet a deadline for handing over information requested.

 

A report by the previous Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson, concluded that the RUC failed to properly investigate what happened at Loughinisland, but said there was insufficient evidence of collusion.

Those findings were quashed after a legal challenge by relatives of those who were killed.

Mr Maguire is now conducting a fresh investigation.

The chief constable stands accused of obstructing him by refusing to hand over intelligence material, including details about police informers that the ombudsman said was essential for him to do his job.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire taking PSNI to court

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire taking PSNI to court

Mr Maguire said he is legally entitled to the information.

“The Police Ombudsman’s office does not do investigations by negotiation,” he said.

“This is fundamental to the independence of the office and the requirement for me to undertake a very clear and robust independent investigation. In order to be able to do that I need access to all areas of police activity to allow my investigators to come to a judgement about what happened.

“This gets to the core of independence, it gets to the core of accountability. We cannot have a situation where those who are the subject of investigation will determine what information is given to those who are undertaking that investigation.”

It is understood other cases the chief constable is accused of blocking include incidents where police officers have been killed.

Colleen McMurray died and a colleague was seriously injured when their car was hit by a mortar in Newry, County Down, in March 1992.

It has been claimed that the RUC’s Special Branch had advance warning about the attack, and that at least two IRA informers were involved.

Other cases are much more recent – and involve serious allegations against members of the PSNI.

“This is not just about the past, this is about a range of cases that both go before the Good Friday Agreement and come after the Good Friday Agreement, so it relates to the RUC and the PSNI,” he explained.

“That’s why it’s extremely important in the context of an ombudsman’s office which is there to provide an independent and robust investigation.

“I cannot allow a situation which is a challenge to the authority of the office, which is a challenge to the independence of that office, to allow that to happen.”

The PSNI said in a statement that it is co-operating to the best of its ability in relation to the investigations.

South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said she supported the ombudsman’s action, having worked to pursue the truth for the families killed in the Loughinisland shootings.

“Unfortunately, the Police Ombudsman’s office has reached the point where they have to take this legal action in pursuit of the truth for the families and victims and to protect the independence and good name of their office,” she said.

“This is due to the fact that the chief constable and senior officers have refused to cooperate with the Police Ombudsman’s investigating officers.

“In so doing they are obfuscating this and other inquiries into historical cases thus preventing truth and justice for the families and the wider community. It is also quite clear that they are interfering with the independence of the Police Ombudsman.”

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