15/04/2011

North's Police Ombudsman In Resignation Row

Politicans in the North have hit out after last night's shock resignation by the boss of the NI Police Ombudsman's Office, Sam Pollock.

Ulster Unionist, David McNarry said questions needed answering: "This has left a large question mark over the Ombudsman's office and a number of senior officials at the Department of Justice," he said.

"It is a very serious matter and David Ford needs to answer whether his officials are the reason for Mr Pollock's departure.

"We need to find out if he has been pushed to far, whether his allegations are founded, can the matter be resolved and what will happen with his replacement."

Sinn Fein's party spokesperson on policing, Alex Maskey, has also called for a speedy investigation into the very serious allegations being made by the former Chief Executive.

Mr Maskey said: "For some time we have been articulating a number of concerns about the current operation of the Police Ombudsman's Office.

"The resignation of the Chief Executive is in itself a serious development but far more serious is the reasons listed by him for his decision to go.

"The independence of the Office goes to the very core of the new policing dispensation.

"Any suggestion that the NIO or Department of Justice have been interfering in the work of the Ombudsman or that the Ombudsman himself is in any way compromised needs to be investigated quickly and the findings made public.

"People should be under no illusions the reasons being put forward by the former Chief Executive are touchstone issues and Sinn Fein will not tolerate any attempt to minimise them or attempt to move forward without proper investigation," he warned.

The man at the centre of the storm, Sam Pollock, claimed last night that the office's independence has been undermined by what he said was "meddling from senior civil servants at the Department of Justice".

In response, a statement, the Stormont Department of Justice said it had always respected the office's independence.

Mr Pollock claimed that he observed systematic and sustained interference and meddling by senior civil servants and he also refers to a significant lowering of the professional independence between the Office of the Ombudsman and the PSNI.

It's understood the outgoing Chief Executive also said that when he raised concerns about these issues he was subjected to personal and damaging attacks, including false and malicious allegations made by officials from the Department of Justice.

The Police Ombudsman himself also strongly rejected claims the office's independence had been undermined.

Al Hutchinson said the independence of the Ombudsman was "guaranteed by law" and he could confirm that "independence is both real and practical, as demonstrated by our reports".

The catalyst appears to have been when the Ombudsman published his second, (revised) highly sensitive, report into the murders of 15 people in the McGurk's bar bombing in 1971.

The £90,000-a-year executive then wrote to the Ombudsman announcing that he had decided to resign - and making it very clear that he is unhappy with the way the office was being run.

It is understood that his letter contains strong criticism of the relationship between the Ombudsman's office and the police and senior civil servants, since Mr Hutchinson took over the job almost three-and-a half years ago.

See: Board Seeks Baggott Meeting Over McGurk's

(BMcC/GK)

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