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4 September 2008 Edition

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Police Ombudsman indicts PSNI over collusion files


BY LAURA FRIEL

AN INVESTIGATION by the Police Ombudsman has found that the PSNI failed in their duty after hundreds of people under the threat of murder at the hands of unionist paramilitaries were not warned by the PSNI.
The failure of the PSNI to take swift action to protect the right to life is a direct breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 2 requires proactive measures to ensure the lives of citizens are protected.
Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said:
“Clearly the PSNI failed in their duty when they chose to ignore for over a year the threat against the lives of over 400 people whose personal details had been passed to a unionist death squad.”
The Ombudsman’s investigation followed complaints by over 60 people at the unacceptable delay of 16 months by the PSNI in warning them that their lives were in danger. The report concluded that the PSNI had taken “too long to warn individuals that they were under threat”.
The delay was exacerbated by the refusal of the PSNI to disclose any information regarding the nature of the threat.
The PSNI would not disclose which unionist paramilitary organisation was in possession of the documents or what personal details were included in the files. This undermined the ability of those at risk to take proper measures to safeguard their own lives.
The Ombudsman concluded that the PSNI could have given out more detailed or specific information without compromising security.
But while Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey welcomed recognition by the Ombudsman that the PSNI had failed in its duty, he pointed out that the report restricted its criticism to a two-month period between September and November 2005.
“But there was a 14-month delay prior to September 2005. The Ombudsman has ignored the totally inadequate response from the outset by the PSNI which left people at risk for well over a year.
“Within days of the files going missing in July 2004, Sinn Féin said they believed they had been passed to a unionist death squad and raised the issue of collusion with the then British NIO minister, Ian Pearson.
“British ministers insisted there was no indication that the files had fallen into the hands of paramilitaries. The British military briefed the media that it was a ‘non story’ and the PSNI restricted their investigation to the assumption that the documents had simply been mislaid.
“All of these assumptions were subsequently shown to be at best complacent and at worst deliberately misleading.”
There were indications of collusion present from the outset. A British soldier from the notoriously sectarian RIR (which absorbed the Ulster Defence Regiment) was questioned in relation to the files by the PSNI but released without charge on Monday 12 July.
An entire unit of the RIR which had been involved in Castlereagh and manning observation posts in nationalist areas was subsequently withdrawn from duty by the British Army. Clearly both the PSNI and British Army commanders suspected collusion.
The ‘missing’ files emanated from offices used by British Military Intelligence and Special Branch, both of which share a long history of collusion with unionist paramilitaries. This has most often taken the form of providing the personal details of potential targets.
Despite the fact that the UDA claimed to have the material in their possession, reassurances to the contrary were repeated to the media by a British Army spokesperson.
Alex Maskey said:
“The cynicism with which British officials decided to put people’s lives further at risk rather than expose the truth about wrongdoing within their own ranks remains totally unacceptable.
“British forces not only colluded by making information available to unionist paramilitaries but the British authorities further colluded by trying to keep it quiet.”
The south Belfast MLA added:
“The Ombudsman’s report, by failing to take full account of the PSNI’s inadequate response from the outset, unwittingly risks being seen as part of that cover-up.”
Maskey also pointed out that the Ombudsman is restricted to investigating police conduct and has no jurisdiction to investigate the role of the British military.

 

Calendar of collusion

July 2004
Files reported as ‘missing’ to PSNI

12 July 2004
PSNI questions RIR solider

21 July 2004
Sinn Féin raises issue with NIO minister

February 2005
PSNI files reclassified as ‘stolen’


March 2005
Seven loyalists whose details are also in the files are warned by the PSNI

September 2005
Part copy of the files found in the hands of loyalists

November 2005
More than 400 nationalists and republicans warned by PSNI

 

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