Leaks, Sneaks and Corporate Memory

This features in an article by Gemma Burns of the North Belfast News 18th August 2011. I will link the full article when it is online. It regards the “leak” of the Criminal Justice Inspection report into the “independence” of the office of Police Ombudsman and the influence of those it investigates. Only in a Kafka novel or Northern Ireland.

If this “leak” of the Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) draft turns out to be a substantive representation of the final report, it may be shocking to society but it merely attests to our families’ well-publicized thoughts on the management of the Office of the Police Ombudsman.

One need only look at our experience with Mr Hutchinson to know that there have been serious failings during his tenure. In July 2010 he tried to railroad our families, many of whom are aged, into accepting an absolute whitewash of a report which he then had to abort before publication. It was so glaringly incorrect that it did not see the light of day.

It was obvious then that he had some serious questions to answer regarding his independence. This leak supports what we have said since then. We also voiced other grave matters of concern, many of which have been published in the North Belfast News.

Significantly, Mr Hutchinson has been inconsistent in his definition, or lack thereof, of “collusion” when it was laid down by Judge Cory and Lord Stevens in official inquiries. His predecessor, Nuala O’ Loan, formed a uniform approach that incorporated the two definitions. Nevertheless, in the published report by Mr Hutchinson into the McGurk’s Bar Massacre, he used none of the above even though it was a definition he had used in the Claudy report. He had quite simply changed the terms of reference for the McGurk’s Bar Massacre report. In fact, he could not tell us what metrics for collusion he was using. So he has tried to leave us with a ruling on collusion that he does not define either in private or the published report!

We need to have the final draft of the CJI published and debated as soon as possible as the ramifications for society are ominous. At a time when we should have faith in a so-called reformed police service’s ability to recognize failings in the past, instead we are investigating their negative influence on the statutory body that we have as a safety mechanism to hold them accountable.

We may question whether the Police Ombudsman’s fear to hold the RUC to book for its flagrant wrongdoings in the past has less to do with his narrow remit as laid out by legislation and more to do with the influence of ex-members of the RUC who are now in the PSNI. That is why we need to publish this report as soon possible so that we may assuage these concerns. Until then our families may question whether this is the same cover-up and collusion we have had to fight relentlessly and constitutionally for two generations.

If it is, and I have my own concerns, we will have to root out any residual corporate memory of the RUC now existing in the PSNI. It will be for the greater good of society and for future generations.

Mr Hutchinson will have to go but we should remember how important it is to distinguish the man from the office when he does go.

The office of the Police Ombudsman is a far from perfect statutory body whose independence, by terms of its own remit under British paymasters and British legislation, is moot from the outset. Nevertheless, it is an essential safeguard that the whole community has to hold the police, past and present, to book.

What it does need – quite simply – is a better manager.

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