By Barry McCaffrey
The families of the Loughinisland massacre today welcomed the announcement that Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire is to dramatically scrap his predecessor Al Hutchinson’s investigation into the 1994 UVF massacre of six men in Loughinisland and order a new inquiry into the killings.
Lawyers for Mr Maguire, who took up office as Police Ombudsman in July, this morning (Thursday) told a Belfast High Court that he intends to overturn his predecessor’s controversial report, which had been branded a whitewash by the victims’ families when it was published in 2011.
Emma Rogan (above), who’s father Adrian was one of those murdered in the atrocity, welcomed the decision to launch a new inquiry.
Speaking outside the court, she said: “As families today we feel vindicated.
“Al Hutchinson’s report is now in the bin. It is a good opportunity for Mr Maguire to put the record straight and hopefully he’ll do it in a speedy manner and we will get justice sooner rather than later. Maybe we’ll get a bit of justice somewhere along the line.
“Fingers crossed, hopefully in 2013 Mr Maguire will do what he says he’s going to do.”
Ms Rogan said that Mr Maguire’s decision to open a new investigation sent out a positive message that he was prepared to listen to the concerns of families.
“He’s quashed Al Hutchinson’s report, now we’ll see what he can deliver.”
Asked what message the new investigation would have for the families of other atrocities, she said:
“Don’t give up hope, keep battling on. The truth will out, just keep going.”
After taking office in July Mr Maguire ordered a review of the Hutchinson report into Loughinisland, following major public criticism from the dead men’s families, which led to Mr Hutchinson, a former Canadian Mountie leaving office earlier this year.
In a letter to the families, Mr Maguire said:
“The review process has now been completed and I have been appraised of the conclusions of the review team. In light of these findings, I am prepared to consent to the court granting relief sought.”
It added: “I consider that a quashing of the statement is necessary in this case as a prerequisite to further investigation.”
Mr Maguire’s lawyers told the families he has decided to overturn the Hutchinson report "on the basis of particular matters which I have concluded – after careful review and in the specific circumstances of your client’s case – were not adequately pursued in the earlier investigation.”
The ombudsman’s decision to re-open the case is understood to relate to statements made by a self-confessed UVF informer identified as Person B and a former RUC detective, identified as Police Officer 04.
Person B admitted having been in possession of the killer’s getaway car prior to the attack but claimed it had been sold on before the atrocity.
On the day after the attack he was contacted by a detective and asked to go to Tennant Street police station in west Belfast so that he could give a statement about his links to the vehicle.
A note was later found on Person B’s statement which instructed that he was only to be contacted through Police Officer 4.
Expressing concerns over contradictions in statements given by Person B and Police Officer 4, Mr Maguire said:
“The review has concluded that there are contradictions in the accounts given by Person B and Police Officer 4 to the earlier investigation which were not adequately pursued and require additional investigation action.
“This includes further investigation of information which may be possessed by Persons A and E.”
Mr Maguire said that he would only be in a position to properly address the matters uncovered by the review by conducting a re-investigation in the atrocity, adding: “ once the investigation is re-opened, other evidence may emerge.”
In September 20011 Mr Hutchinson was criticised in a report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate – at that stage headed up by Mr Maguire – which recommended that the ombudsman’s office should be suspended from investigating historic murders because of a “lowering of independence” in the office.
CJI inspectors uncovered major “inconsistencies” in ombudsman investigations of the Loughinisland, McGurk’s and Claudy atrocities.
The CJI report found that the previous ombudsman reports had been altered or rewritten to exclude criticism of police.
Senior ombudsman officials had demanded to be disassociated from investigation reports, particularly Loughinisland, after their original findings were dramatically altered without reason.
Ombudsman investigators believed that key intelligence had been deliberately withheld from them.