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Retired NI officers launch judicial review against Police Ombudsman

Former NI officers are challenging the policing ombudsman over claims of sectarian bias during The Troubles.

The Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association [NIRPOA] and the Police Federation for Northern Ireland [PFNI] have begun Judicial Review proceedings against the Ombudsman. 

The review will challenge the lawfullness of reports recently issued by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland [PONI]. 

The watchdog has claimed officers engaged in collusive behaviours. 

But the NIRPOA added this was among a range of issues that they want the courts to review.

NIRPOA’s chairman Raymond Fitzsimmons said the PONI has “continued to make unlawful findings of guilt in relation to the most serious offences imaginable without any form of due process and in direct contradiction of the evidence.” 

He added legal directions issued by the High Court and the Appeal Court have been “treated with contempt” by the PONI. 

A spokesperson for the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that they have received notification that a date has been set by the High Court for an initial review of legal challenges to three of her public statements. They also confirmed that the Ombudsman will “robustly defend the legal challenges”. 

Police Oracle understands that the public statements at issue relate to Operation Greenwich, Operation Achille and Operation Farrier. 

Operation Greenwich relates to the RUC’s handling of paramilitary attacks by the Ulster Defence Association [UDA]/ Ulster Freedom Fighters [UFF] between 1989 and 1993, which resulted in 19 murders. 

Operation Achille looks at actions related to a series of murders and attempted murders by the UDA/UFF in south Belfast in the 1990s. 

Finally, Operation Farrier relates to the arrest of four young men in Derry/Londonderry in 1979. 

NIRPOA’s chairman, Raymond Fitzsimons, said, “We have taken this step with great reluctance, being aware of the sensitivities around the deaths of many innocent people. [...] Once again the human rights of our members, including the right to a fair hearing and the right to privacy and family life, have been savagely trampled.” 

They explained that Judicial Review is the only method open to them to seek redress. 

The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, in a statement, also acknowledge the families of the victims, but said they have been concerned for some time “over the questionable approach and tone adopted by the Office of the Police Ombudsman in relation to legacy cases.” 

“We have seen sweeping conclusions in PONI reports which appear to be based on opinion rather than evidence and which fail to take into context the policing environment and policing practice during an unprecedented terrorist campaign. 

"These narratives by PONI categorise the RUC GC as somehow responsible for the actions of the people who planted the bombs and pulled the triggers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We have joined with the Retired Police Officers Association who feel particularly aggrieved at attempts to blacken the reputation and heroic work they did to thwart terrorism from whatever quarter and safeguard people and property.”

One of the issues in question is over the use of the term “collusive behaviours”. 

Concerns were raised by the PFNI back in January in relation to the report published on the attacks by the UDA and UFF. Ombudsman Marie Anderson within the report said she found evidence of collusive behaviour. Mark Lindsay, Chair of the Police Federation responded, saying they were “once again disappointed” with the use of the phrase, saying there was no evidence to back it up which could be tested at court. 

In relation to the current proceedings, the Police Ombudsman has said: “The Police Ombudsman makes clear in each public statement the lawful basis for her conclusions. In relevant public statements, where the Ombudsman addresses allegations of collusion, she expressly states that the powers of the Police Ombudsman were unanimously ruled on by the Court of Appeal in Re Hawthorne and White. 

“The Court ruled that the Ombudsman’s role is investigatory and not adjudicatory in nature. Decisions as to whether a police officer’s actions amounted to criminality or misconduct are for other forums such as a criminal court or disciplinary panel.

“As stated by the Court of Appeal, the Police Ombudsman’s role is limited to acknowledging whether the matters ‘uncovered’ by an investigation are ‘very largely’ what the families claimed constituted ‘collusive behaviour.’ Where the Police Ombudsman identifies ‘collusive behaviours’ she provides clear reasoning for her decision.

“As with all public authorities, the appropriate mechanism to challenge a decision by the Police Ombudsman is through judicial review.

“The Police Ombudsman, in her Five Year Review of the legislative framework for the police complaints system, has recommended that complaints about maladministration and failure in service should fall within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman.

“Pending this proposed legislative change, the Police Ombudsman has appointed an external, independent reviewer of complaints."


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