SDLP Leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has further reacted to the Police Ombudsman’s Report of the Loughinisland Massacre. She has called for the Police Ombudsman to resign following the findings in his report into the shooting in The Heights Bar in Loughinisland in 1994, saying the report “adds insult to injury.”
Speaking about the Loughinisland murders during Matters of the Day on the floor of the NI Assembly Chamber, Ms Ritchie said, “I can honestly say that no event in the entire history of the Troubles made a bigger impact on me personally than the brutal murder of six of my neighbours in The Heights Bar in Loughinisland on that fateful day in 1994.
“I remember, vividly, the shock and the confusion that descended on a quiet peaceful community that day. I knew all of them personally. I remember that one of the six murder victims Malcolm Jenkinson, a Protestant, had not long before, been the winner of the top prize in the local SDLP draw.
“Most of all I remember breaking the news to my disbelieving parents, that in one moment of brutality they had lost family members, friends and neighbours. I remember the devastated families and friends. All of the grieving, the funerals, and the endless discussion and rumour around who did it and why was so little being done to apprehend the murderers.
“Years passed, no-one was ever brought to Justice. Everyone believed the police had not really tried to apprehend the murderers. So, Mr Speaker, last week it had been expected that the long-awaited Ombudsman’s report into the police investigation into Loughinisland would shed more light on what happened, confirm the inadequacies in the RUC response, and confirm also that there had been collusion.
“In the end the several times delayed Ombudsman’s report added little to the sum total of knowledge about the murders. But it did confirm the total inadequacy of the RUC response. Yet despite the utter failures and systematic shortcomings of the RUC, the Ombudsman has concluded that there was no collusion.
“I think that the conclusion by the Ombudsman flies in the face of his evidence and, for the families of the victims, it adds insult to injury. I think it is an unacceptable response.
“We had former RUC investigators who would not cooperate with the inquiry. (Something I intend to pursue further). We had the systematic destruction of evidence. The repeated failures to follow up leads or new evidence and many suspects brought in for questioning were not even finger-printed or DNA tested. And there were the informers and Special Branch – who were treated as off-limits.
“There was undoubtedly collusion in this case. The Ombudsman’s argument that there was incompetence, but not collusion, lacks basic credibility. I cannot explain the position of the Ombudsman other than to prevent embarrassment or to protect other parts of the security and intelligence establishment. And that is unacceptable. I have called on the Police Ombudsman, Al Hutchinson to resign. A step I did not take lightly.
“But I do not believe his position as Ombudsman is any longer tenable. Not just because he has let down the Loughinisland families on the issue of collusion – although I share their anger – but because I am no longer certain that the Ombudsman’s office is sufficiently independent. The Police Ombudsman’s office is a vitally important institution at the heart of our new policing and justice reforms and it lives or dies by its independence.
“Loughinisland, the constant unexplained delays, the McGurk’s Bar debacle and the BBC revelation around senior management concerns about interference and a loss of independence has shredded confidence in the Office – and the only remedy is new leadership. And if Mr Hutchinson will not resign he should be removed.
“Mr Speaker, Friday was a bad day for our justice system and further pain for the Loughinisland families. We can only put it right by bringing the new PSNI murder inquiry to a successful conclusion.”