Police Ombudsman's Report

Matter of the Day – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 8th February 2022.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 10:30 am, 8th February 2022

Mr Matthew O'Toole has been given leave to make a statement on the Police Ombudsman's report, which fulfils the criteria that are set out in Standing Order 24. If other Members wish to be called, they should rise in their place and continue to do so. All Members who are called will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject. I remind Members that interventions will not be accepted. I will not take points of order on this or any other matter until the item of business is finished.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for accepting the Matter of the Day. On Saturday past, I, along with others, joined the families of those who were murdered at Sean Graham bookmakers 30 years ago, on 5 February 1992. At that event, those families gave voice to the decades of frustration at their inability to get accountability and justice for the murder of their loved ones. The people who died that day were Coleman Doherty, Joseph Duffin, who was also known as Jack, James Kennedy, Peter Magee, and Willie McManus. There were the attempted murders of several others.

Today, the Police Ombudsman, Marie Anderson, has published her detailed report into those murders and allegations that surround them, and the murder and attempted murder of several others in that area. Those include the attempted murder of Samuel Caskey on 9 October 1990, the murder of John O'Hara in April 1991, the murder of Harry Conlon in October 1991, the murder of Aidan Wallace in December 1991, the murder of Michael Gilbride on 4 November 1992, the murder of Martin Moran in October 1993, the murder of Theresa Clinton in April 1994, and the murder of Larry Brennan in January 1998.

The ombudsman finds a web of investigatory failings, completely inappropriate police behaviour and what she terms "collusive behaviours". As Members in the Chamber will know, as a result of a Court of Appeal finding, the Police Ombudsman is now not able to make a direct finding of collusion, but in her detailed report, which comes to more than 300 pages, she is clear that she finds extensive evidence of what she terms "collusive behaviours".

I will not go through all the allegations. They are not allegations any more but findings in her report. I will highlight a couple of them, however. One is the failure of Special Branch to share information with investigating police on the murders. Another is the failure to tell people when there were known threats against them. Although the Police Ombudsman does not find that the murders could have been prevented by police actions, she does find that there was a failing to tell people that they were at risk, which is shocking. Perhaps most shocking of all, however, is the finding that an apparently deactivated gun was placed back into the hands of a UDA/UFF informant. That is utterly shocking.

The findings of the Police Ombudsman's report speak for themselves. It is now time, 30 years on, for the families to get accountability, and although I —

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

— understand that many will want to speak up for —

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

— the many RUC people who served with decency and honour —

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

— it is important to say that not having accountability for these types of actions does nothing for all those RUC officers.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I therefore stand today with the families of those who were murdered at the Sean Graham bookmakers and with the other families.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

At the outset, I will say that my heart goes out to the families of the 11 people murdered, who included a 15-year-old boy, and all those injured as a result of collusion between the British state and the UDA. My thoughts are with them today as they try to come to terms with the stark revelations in the Police Ombudsman's report on the deaths of their loved ones at the hands of loyalist murder gangs.

It follows previous reports into loyalist mass killings in Loughinisland and Greysteel, carried out using weapons that British state agents helped to import and distribute to the UDA, the UVF and Ulster Resistance. Eighty people were killed with those weapons, and the ombudsman has revealed that those responsible for bringing them in have never been investigated, despite the involvement of state agents.

The ombudsman has also said that eight RUC Special Branch agents were involved in 27 murders and attempted murders in south Belfast, with one agent being recruited because of his involvement in the planning, preparation and execution of previous murders.

The ombudsman found collusion in each and every killing. Lives could and should have been saved, but warnings about attacks being planned were not passed on, and state agents involved in murder were allowed to kill and kill again.

It beggars belief that the RUC handed guns back to loyalist paramilitaries so that they could be used to kill again.

The latest report by the ombudsman shows a clear pattern of collusion and cover-up. Evidence and documentation were destroyed, and warnings were not passed on to victims. Special Branch refused to pass on relevant intelligence to investigators. Eyewitnesses to killings were exposed to risk, with their names read out in front of suspects.

The report is a devastating indictment of collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries. That is why the British Government want an amnesty for their state forces, their intelligence services and the agents who killed for them, and it is why victims, families, political parties and human rights groups continue to oppose those plans vigorously.

It is time to address the legacy of the past by implementing the mechanisms agreed at Stormont House in a human rights-compliant manner to ensure that families are not waiting any more decades for truth and justice.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I declare an interest as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB).

It gives me no pleasure to talk about the contents of this report today.

However, I find it ironic. I am sure that you would not give me enough time to read out the names of all the people who were murdered at the hands of terrorists, many of whom are represented in the Chamber today on the Benches opposite. Indeed, the identity of the SDLP Member who submitted the Matter of the Day was telling, given that his colleague who sits on the Northern Ireland Policing Board besmirched the name of the RUC in previous comments. This is just part of a litany of incidents in a campaign to destroy the name of the RUC, which is something that many of us thought had been settled in 1998.

The findings of the report on any involvement are disappointing, but then I think about the previous Member's comments about documents being destroyed and weapons being handed out. I say to her: how many opportunities did the organisation that her party represents have to hand out weapons that killed almost 3,000 people in Northern Ireland?

I am also struck by the fact that the ombudsman has found the opportunity to create a criminal offence for coercive behaviour. All those things stand in contrast with the out-of-court settlements that the Chief Constable has made in the past few months, not connected to loyalist paramilitary attacks but to those from the nationalist community and the cover ups in relation to them. Indeed, I have sat in many meetings with the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), and if the information that was provided at those meetings was in the public domain, it would be harrowing for people to hear. However, I have never heard calls from the Benches opposite for inquiries into those cases, nor have I heard Members from the Benches opposite condemning the actions of some of their own in relation to murders, including those of RUC officers.

In 1998, a line was allegedly drawn in the sand on all these things, but we continue to hear about all these inquiries, which are one-sided in nature. The sooner that that stops and we move forward, the better.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

The Ulster Unionist Party is a party of law and order: no ifs, no buts. No one is above the law. Anybody who is guilty of wrongdoing should face the criminal justice system. That said, we are possibly in the worst of all places. Not for the first time, the Police Ombudsman has concluded that there were murders that could not have been prevented and could not have been stopped, yet she points the finger at police officers with the expression "collusive behaviour". What does that really mean?

During my time as a victims' commissioner, the most powerful conversation that I overheard in this area was between a retired senior police officer who had served in the RUC and a man who had spent time in prison as a member of the Provisional IRA. The policeman said, "You see, I never woke up in the morning thinking, 'Who can I hurt today?'", and the IRA man replied, "Ah, but I did".

There are things in life that you can explain but you cannot excuse. I am not standing here trying to excuse wrongdoing by anyone who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. However, if you think about the length — decades long — and intensity of our Troubles and the number of fallible human beings who put on the uniform of the RUC, inevitably you have to conclude that mistakes and bad decisions were made. I do not excuse that; I just accept it as part of the human condition.

Yesterday, the House marked the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and I am reminded of what she said in Dublin during her state visit in 2011. Looking back on our Troubles, she said there were:

"things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all."

That applies to the Troubles. Violence was not inevitable. As an Ulster Unionist and a trustee of the John and Pat Hume Foundation, I am committed to peaceful change.

Had we all committed to peaceful change, we would not be having this debate in the House today.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 10:45 am, 8th February 2022

I declare my membership of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. My first thoughts are with the families of those who were killed in these attacks and with those who survived and have been living with the physical and mental scars for all these years. Today will be one of mixed emotions for them as their long-held concerns have been proven to have foundation. They have the full support of the Alliance Party in their campaign for justice.

The revelations in the report are deeply disturbing and raise serious issues and questions that need to be answered, and they have the potential to undermine confidence in policing. It must be addressed by the police and the Policing Board immediately as the report identified collusive behaviours by the RUC in the investigation of murders and attempted murders carried out by loyalist paramilitaries in the 1990s. There remains in our society huge individual and collective hurt. The Police Ombudsman's report is further evidence of the pressing need for a comprehensive mechanism to deal with that and give people the justice and closure they deserve.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

I, again, put on record my membership of the Northern Ireland Policing Board as I rise to speak on what is, no doubt, a very difficult day for the families involved with the Sean Graham bookmakers. I think of those families because, no doubt, this has brought back some very painful memories of a very difficult time. Equally, I look towards many former serving RUC officers and families who are equally disturbed and annoyed by the memories of their loved ones that this incident brings to their doorstep. Let us not forget that 300 RUC officers were killed during the Troubles while performing a duty of law and order to defend and protect the people of Northern Ireland. Over 280 of those officers were killed by republican terrorists. How many inquiries or reports did they get, and how many of their killers were brought to justice?

Sadly, today, in 2022, we continually see an attempt to compare today's standards of policing operations with what was happening in a chaotic time in this province's history. It is important that I put that on record because I come from a family with members who have served in the law institutions and forces that protected this country through some very dark and difficult days. I think of the nine officers killed in the Newry mortar bomb attack. I think of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Robert Buchanan, who were lured to their death in the Irish Republic, yet many have fallen silent in their pursuit of justice for them. Many former RUC officers are scarred by what they saw during the Troubles. They lost friends and family and had to live in constant fear. We need to remember that 90% of deaths in Northern Ireland during the Troubles were caused by paramilitaries. Everyone deserves justice. Let us think of Teebane, La Mon, Bloody Friday and Enniskillen. Some want to tarnish the memory of the RUC. For those who were wrong, the vast majority will call them out for what it was. I, for one, am proud and grateful for their diligent service in the protection of the citizens of Northern Ireland through some very dark and difficult days.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I stand as a former member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. No one should take any joy or any sense of glorification in a murderous campaign that left widows, orphans and broken families.

I have a brother who has proudly served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve and as a part-time PSNI officer for 41 years. I thank God every day that he is still alive, because, sadly, many other families heard the knock on the door and a masked terrorist shot them through the head or in the back. Sadly, there are people in the Chamber, elected to public office, who have glorified those heinous crimes; who have covered up; who have been involved in collusive behaviour; and who have not told the police all that they know about what happened. Today, I call on them to search their conscience. The party opposite has supported and glorified the IRA, a murderous machine that cost lives and created orphans and whose members could not even tell families from their own community the truth about where they buried their loved ones. Is it not time that we had the truth?

Members from the party opposite always like to talk to us about truth and justice —

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I advise the Member that we are dealing with a Matter of the Day tabled by Mr Matthew O'Toole, which deals with the ombudsman's report. He has strayed very, very far from that. I advise the Member —

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Mr Speaker, I am not questioning your authority, but it is all part of our dark past. If we are to have the truth about what happened with the members of the RUC, we are also going to have to have the truth about what happened with the members of the IRA and those who have been their fellow travellers for 40 years, who still put on uniforms and go to memorials and graves to glorify them and say that it was right. Remember, it was the republican movement that talked about an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other. It was the Armalite that created the burials, the orphans and the graves.

Today, I stand here proud of a family member who served in the RUC.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I commend the RUC, and I trust and pray that its vilification will come to an end.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up. Thank you.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

I did not want to speak on this, and I do not want to make any political statements about it. However, I operated in my workplace in a bar, which was not too far from Hamilton Street, and I knew the family of James Kennedy. I knew the father, Jackie, very well, and I remember the shock that we had at the death of that young boy at 15. I remember my mother baking a cake of wheaten bread and bringing round the ham to Hamilton Street and the pure sorrow within that house.

All of this really shocked me, all the statistics and all those who died throughout the Troubles. At times, to keep my place of work open, I probably called on the police to try to open up the town, but that does not excuse it. If there was wrongdoing in the police, we need to root it out. There is nobody here who would disagree with that.

I will finish with one last comment. I think of young Jamie's mother — Jackie's wife — who very soon followed her son to the grave. I can tell you, folks: she went into her grave with a broken heart, never mended from that day. I pass on my condolences to all the victims.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

I was proud to wear the RUC uniform as a part-time reservist for some 15 years. I did not serve with one officer who I heard threatening to go out and harm any member of our society. Thousands of officers served with distinction, many of whom have gone to their graves and many of whom are still alive. The families of those who served will be hurt by the broad-brush nature of the ombudsman's report and, more importantly, the broad-brush opportunities that it provides to the history rewriters.

My colleague Mike Nesbitt spelt out where the Ulster Unionist Party stands on law and order. If anyone, whatever uniform they wore or none, has done wrongdoing, they should be brought before a court of law, be made to account for their actions and receive the due punishment, but please do not besmirch the reputation or memories of those thousands of officers who left their homes every morning and left their wives and children behind them without any certainty that, at the end of their working day, they would return to their family unharmed or, indeed, alive.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

It has been said that everybody deserves justice. It is a sad day when we still have to step up in the Chamber and declare that we support law and order and when, in looking at and addressing such reports, we have to caveat them with political point-scoring.

Lives were lost. People died. Other lives were damaged. Families were broken. A community was terrorised. When we know that wrong was done, we have to make it right. It is time that we put people first and that we do everything that we can to end the suffering of so many victims. Let us put people first, and, if everyone deserves justice, let us do all that we can to make sure that they can access that justice. Let the ombudsman do her work, and let all our thoughts be with those families today. We have made some great strides forward, but we are not there yet.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

I rise to speak on this disturbing report. It is not pleasant reading. While no one is above the law and all should be subject to the law, the report is strong in both supposition and allegation. I think of friends in the RUC who were murdered, blown up, maimed and left with severe disabilities. In my area, an IRA bomb explosion on the street where I worked killed six innocent civilians, mainly pensioners. I will never forget my memories of that day.

I feel strongly that all victims of the atrocities that were carried out in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles should be remembered. Anyone who breaks the law should be subject to the law, be they RUC officer or terrorist. I extend my sympathy to any family that lost a loved one during the Troubles, no matter what their background or where they come from.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for that contribution. That concludes the Matter of the Day.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I failed to declare my membership of the Policing Board. I apologise to you and the House for that omission.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I, too, failed to declare my membership of the Policing Board. Like Mr Nesbitt, I apologise to the House.