Vincent Kearney reports on the crisis in the Police Ombudsman's Office, investigating the internal difficulties faced by the PSNI watchdog.
Browse content similar to The Whistleblower and the Watchdog. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This man's resignation plunged the office of Al Hutchinson into crisis.
The strength and integrity of the office has weakened.
Tonne on Spotlight, new evidence of failings in the body yet-up to hold
police to account. There was informers involved and
they should have been obliged to tell me exactly what they found.
The intelligence branch of the PSNI given the all clear in the
unmasking and subsequent death of Denis Donaldson. But was key
evidence overlooked? How Can you close a case and find
no evidence of police misconduct? Well, you seem to be rising new
facts. Al Hutchinson is a former Royal ka in aidy mounty -- Canadian
mowny. He stands accused of failing to pursue allegation that that
Special Branch officers and agents broke the law.
Murder, the loss of life, some The office of the Police Ombudsman
has been a critical part of Northern Ireland's new future for
policing. After ten years at the heart of police reform, Sam Pollock
leaves work for the last time. With his resignation, the ombudsman's
Chief Executive, sent shockwaves through the organisation set-up to
hold police to account. He has refused to speak about why
he left his �90,000 a year job until now. It was a statement on my
part that I couldn't do anymore. I basically lost confidence in the
direction of the office and the independence of the office in
relation to very serious matters. The prospective of the police mind
became upper most. His departure led to two officials reports that
found a lack of leadership and a loss of independence. Criticism
that led to the suspension of historical investigations, the
ombudsman's most controversial area of work and forced Al Hutchinson to
announce he will retire next June. I decided to leave because the
office was being damaged by the attacks on me.
Snoot difficult issues need to be addressed and and they are issues
of transparency. They are issues of truthfulness about some very bad
stories and matters which no matter how much we don't want to face them,
need to be faced. I can assure everybody that we do
deliver independent, impartial evidence based reports and whether
that is perceived by the public or not is a matter of debate.
. Disciplined by the ombudsman as internal rows became bitter, Sam
Pollock has become an unlikely whistle-blower, after a career in
the Criminal Justice System spanning 40 years, service that was
rewarded with an OBE six years ago. My resignation was not in a fit of
pique or anything like that. I did not want to be associated with
something that I believed was not act in the public interest. I think
he has done the office a service. His resignation from such a highly
paid post in such circumstances speaks for itself. It was the act
of a man of integrity. Sam Pollock Accused the watchdog he
worked for, of turning a blind eye of serious wrongdoing to the police.
Some of the ombudsman's investigators and senior officials
claimed they have been kept in the dark and that reports have been
changed to reduce criticism of the police. But this isn't just Sam
Pollock's story. I spent weeks investigating cases that go to the
heart of his criticisms. I have taught the families of victims who
share his views and found that this is not simply about a failure to
probe the RUC's past. I have discovered shortcomings in
oversight of the PSNI. Obviously not at this stage.
For 20 years, senior Sinn Fein member, Denis Donaldson led a
secret life as an informer for MI5, the RUC and the PSNI.
Then he was exposed as an agent and shot dead at a remote cottage in
Donegal. Three years after he was killed, the Real IRA said they were
responsible, but his family pointed an accusing finger at the police.
They claim officers, who knew about Denis Donaldson's secret role, may
have exposed him as an agent and contributed to his death. They
complained to the Police Ombudsman and say he failed to conduct a
proper investigation into their claims.
Are you aware of the nature of the complaint made by the family of
Denis Donaldson? I am because representative of the family did
speak to me. Do you have a view on how their
complaint was treated by the office? I have no doubt that the
family are quite right to be just to feel frustrated or agitated
about how the matter was dealt W Denis Donaldson's family believe a
Special Branch agent handler, Lenny, may have the answers. It was a
phone call from Lenny that sent Denis Donaldson fleeing to this
cottage to dony from his home in Belfast.. All these events
initiated with Denis being expositioned or forced into a a
position where he admit his role as an agent. He was force nood that
position by bun of the intelligence -- one of the intelligence agencies
that recruited him. Nuala O'Loan now sits in the House
of Lords. But in 2007, she was coming to the end of her seven year
term as Police Ombudsman. The Donaldson family brought their
concerns to her. I think I would have described it
as grave and exceptional. A man who had been in a very significant
position was murdered in questionable circumstances, I would
have regarded it as significant, but more than that, I don't think I
can say. After Nuala O'Loan left office, the
Donaldson's complaint was redrafted and sent back to them, but they
refused to sign it. The case case appeared to stall. A letter from
the ombudsman said if the complaint wasn't signed, the matter would be
closed and no further investigation would take place. The family didn't
respond. They say they didn't want an investigation conducted under
the new terms. The investigation was being closed,
it was dead and buried they took the ombudsman's correspondance at
face value. Other a year later, another letter
arrived, even though the investigation had been declared
closed, the family was told the ombudsman had gone on to conduct
significant inquiries with the PSNI. The letter said no police
misconduct has been identified and that this office has concluded the
investigation and now considers the matter to be closed.
But I have established that the case was closed without
investigators speaking to the Special Branch handler known as
Lenny. It is an issue that goes to the heart of complaints about the
office of the ombudsman, that is reluctant to investigate
allegations involving informants and their handlers.
It can't be said to be an effective investigation because Lenny is the
person at the centre of all this who has serious questions to ask.
It beggars belief that the person in respect of hom the complaint --
whom the complaint was directed wasn't even spoken to.
Would you accept that it would would not be possible to conduct a
proper investigation without speaking to the Special Branch
handler? I am not across the file and the detail. I will look at it,
but I really don't have the detail. The ombudsman's investigators were
unaware of a potentially vital piece of information about Denis
Donaldson's life as an informer. Something Irish police removed from
cottage as part of their investigation and have refused to
return to the family. When Gardai set-up a meeting with the family in
July of 2006, to facilitate the return of personal effects and
property that Denis had, Denis's widow noticed that missing was a
jotter or a notebook in which Denis was writing issues in relation to
his life. Denis was writing a journal.
Gardai took away the jotter or journal after the murder. Denis
Donaldson's family wants to read it. They believe it may provide clues
about why he was killed and by whom. They were told it would be given
back, but later informed that for security reasons the jotter cannot
be returned. Is it the family's belief that the
journal may have contained details of his life as an informant? Well,
all the family know is that this material was going to be provided
and returned to them. They then seen about face in terms of the
Gardai decision to disclose that material which effectively would
have been the last writings of this man before he was killed.
I know nothing about a journal. I take it this is what the family are
saying and the Gardai have that information. We would have to
liaise with them. REPORTER: How can you close a case
and find no police misconduct if you don't know the answers to those
questions? Well, if there are new facts that need to come to us then
certainly the family can bring them forward.
So you will be looking at the case again? Well, it again it goes with
the 128 or 19 that are in the list -- 129 that are on the list.
The case is back on Al Hutchinson's list because the Hutchinson family
brought the matter to the Chief Constable. The PSNI asked the
ombudsman to re-open the investigation. The delay in the
case has probably closed down one line of inquiry. We understand the
handler known as Lenny has retired from the PSNI, meaning that under
current legislation, he is no longer obliged to speak to the
ombudsman's investigators. It was the dark corners of intelligence
and the use of informers that became a battleground inside the
ombudsman's office. I sensed in the end a dilemma or a conflict in
terms of dealing with the whole issue of informants. It is a
difficult matter. It is a sensitive matter. But short of that, a family
who is maybe been living for years or decades with grief, not knowing
basic information with regard to the death and loss, they have a
right to know as much as possible. To speak about the involvement of
an an informant directly or indirectly in murder and the loss
of life, some atrocities, you cannot fudge that.
And the office should not and never should step back from exposing that.
But I found evidence that they did just that. The first time the
ombudsman investigated the murder of a police officer his report
withheld a key piece of information. In October 1988, RUC officer John
Larmour was off duty and looking after his brother's ice cream
parlour when two gunmen walked in just before closing time.
No one has ever been charged with the murder.
Gavin Larmour was 13 when his father was killed. Years later, he
complained to the ombudsman about the police investigation into the
murder. The ombudsman found that Special Branch had not told
detectives everything they knew, but the ombudsman didn't tell him
why the information was held back. Legislation prevents Sam Pollock
from talking about specific cases, but he understands Gavin Larmour's
anger. I cannot say anything more that I
can understand why Gavin felt let down or felt the way he did with
regard to reporting on the death of his father.
REPORTER: You can understand his frustration? I can understand his
frustration. Three-and-a-half years ago, the
ombudsman released a two page report on the murder saying the
investigation was hampered by Special Branch.
It was information that was not passed on post the killing that
could have assisted the investigation. The more important
question is exactly what is that intelligence? Who does it
implicate? Who handled it and why did they choose not to disseminate
that down wards to the investigation team?
REPORTER: Why was it not pass on to detectives -- passed on to
detectives? Well, that is part of the new allegation that came up
that is currently going to be investigated once we restart
historic investigations. Al Hutchinson insists that Gavin
Larmour has only only recently made the allegation that Special Branch
was was protecting an informer. But I've learned that it is something
the ombudsman's office has known about for sometime.
In 2008, two weeks before the report and John Larmour's murder
was published, a senior officer warned that the office was
vulnerable if the Larmour report did not acknowledge that
information was withheld from detectives in order to to protect a
source. If there is any evidence or any
indication of that whatsoever, they should have been obliged in their
reply to me to tell me what they found.
The John Larmour murder investigation brought to light a
familiar story. Intelligence withheld from detectives who could
have used it. That's what gave RUC Special Branch a reputation as a
force within a force. Some of the ombudsman's investigators now
believe the same problem exists within their office.
In 2008, Al Hutchinson and this man, senior Director of Investigations
Jim Coupland, commission add review of how sensitive intelligence was
controlled in the ombudsman's office. It was set-up in response
to PSNI concerns. Jim Coupland brought in four police figures from
Great Britain to conduct the review. There are 17 recommendations were
only seen by Mr Coupland and Al Hutchinson. But the effect of the
review was to introduce a filter known as the confidential unit
between police intelligence and ombudsman investigators.
It is create ago firewall. -- it is create ago firewall. That did
concern me. Because one of the very strong vitisms we made --
criticisms we made of the PSNI or previously the RUC was that
investigators were not getting all the information they needed or
should have had from what was previously Special Branch. Although
it is not a term I would use much, but the old term of the, "Force
within the force" had real significance. The review seemed to
almost replicate what we criticised the police for which was we had a
unit within a unit. We had an office within an office.
No, I don't agree. I don't think that's an appropriate analogy. All
we did was tighten up the information and the loose handling
of it and I don't agree with Sam as he said that as restricted
information, necessary information, to the to the investigators.
Six months ago, Al Hutchinson called in criminal justice
inspector Michael Maguire to investigate Sam Pollock's concerns.
He criticised the intelligence review for focusing entirely on the
needs of the police and MI5 while apparently giving no regard to the
needs of civilian oversight. One of the core functions of the
ombudsman's office. Proper mechanism for handling material, I
don't have a problem with. What I did have a concern with was the
absence of civilians within the ombudsman's office, non police in
contributing to that review. We had as we moved forward, the beginnings
of serious mistrust within the organisation over the way in which
confidential information and sensitive material was handled.
Was it a mistake not to have any civilian input into the review of
the intelligence function within your office? No, it was not a
mistake. It was not set-up for that. Trying to distinguish the two areas,
the product that comes out of there has to be balanced against the
public's right for information versus the right to protect the
life of informants and information. By May last year, the ombudsman's
office was deeply divided over the handling of intelligence.
Particularly about how much to reveal when informers were involved.
That became apparent here on this estate in Derry.
Here, three families became caught between the IRA's attempt to kill
police officers and the RUC's suspected attempt to protect a mole
inside the provisionals and here the ombudsman is alleged to have
stepped back from highlighting a terrible failure to protect life.
It was a flat roof building at that time with a balcony on it and this
would have been our house originally. On the 3 sst the 31st
August 1988, my father was killed in an explosion at our home.
Father of six, Eugene Dalton was caught in a trap meant for police.
The IRA kidnapped the man who lived in the flat above Eugene Dalton's
home. They planted a bomb inside attached to the door.
The IRA then made several attempts to lure police into the trap. A car
used in a rocket attack on an RUC station was left outside the flat
and a trail of blood was left leading to the door.
Police were told about the car, but didn't go to the flat. Two days
later, a chip shop was robbed, ID belonging to the man who lived in
the flat was dropped by the robbers. Again, police did not go to the
flat. That's because what is known as an out of bounds order had been
issued telling police to stay away from the streets around the bomb.
No such warning was given to the public.
The bomb had been in place six days when Eugene Dalton and two friends
went to look for their missing neighbour. The bomb was triggered
when Eugene opened the door. Eugene Dalton and Sheila Lewis were killed
immediately. Gerard Curran died later in hospital. The Daltons
acknowledged that the IRA was responsible for killing their
father, but in 2005, they complained to the Police Ombudsman
alleging that police could have prevented the deaths.
In 2008, ombudsman investigators briefed the Daltons about their
findings. They indicated that an informer told police about an
attack, a warning they had never made its way to residents of the
estate. What did the investigators tell
you? Well, they told us that they had had discovered that there was
an exclusion put into that area. That the police and the soldiers
were told not to go near that area. Did investigators say that because
of an out of bounds order, that proved the bliss knew where the
bomb -- police knew with the bomb was? Yes, that did prove that the
police did know where the bomb was. Well, it was never going to be a
happy outcome because at the end of the day, nothing is going to bring
my daddy back. It made us feel better that we had been found to be
right. That the police were wrong. One of the of the investigators did
say in a discussion after the meeting, "This will not be easy
reading for the police.". wouldn't have been easy read read
if it had been published. Last year, a draft ombudsman's report upheld
the Dalton's chief complaints, including the allegation that
police knew a bomb was in place but did not act because they were
protecting an informer. The draft had taken almost five years to
produce, but it was then rewritten over one weekend, reversing each of
the findings. It suddenly became much easier reading for the police.
Days after the rewrite, Al Hutchinson, Jim Coupland, and two
other senior directors met the dal tans and -- Daltons and read out
the revised conclusions. We feel that the delegation who
came from Belfast, came to basically sell us a pup. I think
those changes were made to remove or minimise the impact of the fact
that the RUC, Special Branch, knew about that bomb.
I'm in no doubt from within the office that that there were
concerns about the changing of that report. The redrafts led to less
criticism of the police? There was no deliberate lowering of criticism
of the police. That is not an issue. Well, reports are changed
throughout the process, but they are only changed this response to
evidence or evaluation of that evidence and certainly observed
they are changed. They are changed both ways to favour the police, to
criticise the police, it depends on the evidence. It is always evidence
based. The the impact of the changes in
that report were to make it less critical of the police and change
the clunetionz given to families and the representatives. We weren't
clear as to why changes were made because there was no clear evidence
as to why or what new evidence had come to light.
He couldn't find any paper trail. It looks like he didn't ask anybody
involved in the process for any explanations. If he had, they would
have provided him. Is there a paper trail? Well, no,
there isn't. That appears to be the issue with that particular file.
go to the Police Ombudsman and them accept the case, it was like
brilliant, we're going to get the answers we need and then last year
when they came down in May with the story and read us that report, we
were just gutted. We just felt, it was a real hard blow. We felt let
down. Really let down.
Because they were set-up to give us answers and they just gave us more
questions. Those questions have multiplied
because the ombudsman's office was divided over how to carry the
investigation forward. The Dalton family was told investigators
received legal advice that former RUC officers could be arrested and
questioned about allegations that they had broken the law by failing
to act. That step would have outraged
retired officers. But it didn't happen. Investigators were directed
to treat retired officers as witnesses and not suspects.
Did you arrest any retired officers for questioning? The answer is no.
And did you consider doing so? we'll leave that to the final
report. I think that all avenues of inquiry should have been available
to the investigating officers. I feel that any confidence that we in
the ombudsman's office has gone. When you think of the spirit in
which the ombudsman's office was set-up and that spirit no longer
exists within the ombudsman's office as far as I see.
Baroness Nuala O'Loan is well acquainted with the issue of
retired officers. She felt some of her investigations were stymied
because former officers would not co-operate even as witnesses. When
her term as Police Ombudsman expired in 2007, she left behind a
legally required review with 26 recommendations for strengthening
the powers of the ombudsman. One of the recommendations you made
you could compel retired officers to come to interview? We should be
able to do that because they are a big resource in terms of the Police
Service of Northern Ireland. Whilst they understand there were many
cases for them a long time ago, it was nfrl very important that we got
the co-operation and in some cases they were non co-operative.
Her proposal was opposed by retired officers, but when Al Hutchinson
became Police Ombudsman, he accepted 19 of Nuala O'Loan's 26
recommendations including the measure to compel former officers
to speak to investigators. As discussions about the proposals
dragged on for almost two years, Mr Hutchinson delegated the work to
Jim Coupland and another official. In October 2009, Mr Cope land
signed a memo with the Northern Ireland Office spelling out the
original 26 proposals, but the memo told the minister that Al
Hutchinson was accepting just four. There was one problem - he didn't
know. It was presented as an agreed document between the Northern
Ireland Office and between your office and it was signed off
between the Director of NIO and an official. I didn't know about it
and that was brought to our attention about December 2009.
Well, when I saw the actual document in December 2009, I would
say that that was the beginning of my loss of confidence in what was
going on behind the scenes. The information presented to the
minister would suggest that those recommendations had the full force,
the full support, of the Police Ombudsman, myself and our staff and
that was fundamentally untrue. In fact, it only had the support of
one member of staff, the senior director and I found that amazing.
I was quite shocked. It would appear that Jim Coupland
was in the driving seat, rather than you? I am ultimately
responsible for that. If you are saying that Jim Coupland bears
responsibility for that, no he doesn't.
Were you surprised that 22 of your 26 recommendations were rejected?
find it very odd. The power to compel retired
officers was among the 22 recommendations Jim Coupland said
the ombudsman had rejected. That proposal has been put back on the
table by Al Hutchinson. It is all going forward in the next five year
review. It is a rather mute point and by the end of October that will
be back to the Minister for Consulting.
The Northern Ireland Office said its officials acted in good faith
thinking the ombudsman was aware of changes to the review, but Sam
Pollock believes the work of Nuala O'Loan made them determined to
stall greater power going to the ombudsman.
I do believe the strategy behind what happened over the five year
review was wholy in the hands of the Northern Ireland Office and no
one else. There seemed to be some view at that level that the wings
of the office had to be clipped or that the office couldn't continue
to act in such a strong fashion and therefore, the recommendations were
kicked into touch. In 2007, Nuala O'Loan published a
controversial report into the activities of a UVF informer,
titled Operation Ballast, the report said he been protected and
paid by Special Branch while leading the gang involved in more
than ten murders. Senior police officers from the time told me that
intelligence agencies were deeply alarmed because the revelations
exposed the work of an active informer.
It was the kind of case that Al Hutchinson has described as toxic
for the ombudsman's office. Now all of the historic cases,
during my time and before mip time, have -- my time have all generated
controversy. The police are either upset or the families are upset, it
is hard to be in the middle, but the salvation and the way to go, of
course, is evidence based. If we can evidence a fact then we should
report it against the police or against the family.
But cases like Operation Ballast bridge the past and the present.
The RUC and the PSNI. I have learned of a similar case involving
an IRA informer that could turn out to be just as significant. It has
been with Al Hutchinson for four years. In 2007, former Chief
Constable, Sir Hugh Orde sent the ombudsman details of this case for
investigation. Jim Coupland decided there were no resources available
to pursue the case. Sam Pollock was astonished.
There is nothing more important really than a referral from a Chief
Constable. And it beggars belief that such a matter could have been
shelved or relegated or just not dealt with. I don't accept that the
resources would be an issue. That shocked me. I was surprised that
the decision not to investigate it further was taken on the basis of a
lack of resources. There is other criteria and that should have been
factored into the decision making. On the list of of priorities where
does a Chief Constable referral sit? Oh, it would sit very high. It
would sit very high. Because what you are looking at is the
seriousness of the issue and the other things are that the
legislation says the Police Ombudsman should investigate, so
you simply must investigate. It just goes without saying. It has to
be done. In a statement to pot light Sir
Hugh Orde -- Spotlight Sir Hugh Well, resources are always an issue.
If I recall, that's a case that spanned history and current, the
troubles and again, resources are key to this, that's why I need more
resources, the devolved administration has to deliver.
Your former former Chief Executive, Sam Pollock, said it beggars belief
that such a referralal was not investigated immediately. Well, I
haven't heard Sam say that before, so I'm not sure what his comment is
with respect. We asked Nuala O'Loan about this and she said if
necessary, you suspend investigations into other cases,
you prioritise and you free up resources. Well, with respect, nul
la is not here. Somebody has to make those decisions and the
decision was taken and anything is open to review.
Did you ask for more resources for this referralal? No, we didn't. We
asked for more money to deal with all the historic cases. Well,
sitting with 128 cases which one do you want me to deal with?
business tute inside the om -- dispute inside the ombudsman's
office descend nood a bitter mess. Senior Director of Investigations
ux Jim Coupland took a complaint against Sam Pollock who was given a
written warning. He resigned the same day. Jim Coupland went on sick
leave for over a year. He faced disciplinary proceedings after he
admitted lying to an investigator. We asked Jim Coupland to take part
in this programme, but he declined saying he would like to engage with
the issues we raised, but he said medical reasons and legislation
prevented him from doing so. Tonight, the crisis in the
ombudsman's office is far from being resolved. Al Hutchinson is
due to leave next June and his two most senior officials have gone. I
have learned that just last week, Jim Coupland followed Sam Pollock
by handing in his resignation, but the ombudsman insists he can fix
things. I urged Mr Hutchinson to fix what
was wrong and to fix it quickly. I had urged the minister to support
the Police Ombudsman in ensuring that it was fixed quickly in the
interests of Northern Ireland and in the interests of the police
service and in the interests of the office. Now I feel let down by so
much of what has happened. I would have to say on a personal level and
on a professional level I think he should resign.
And resign with immediate effect? Yes.
Well, those are Sam's words. I disagree with them and I am
disappointed to hear that. He left the office of his own own violition
and I'm going to stay to see this through. Whoever sits in this chair
is going to be subject to all of this, Nuala was before me. I am now.
The next one will be. So the toxic legacy of the past, because
politically it has been unresolved, is damaging for the office.
When Al Hutchinson leaves, the first and Deputy First Ministers
Vincent Kearney reports on the crisis in the Police Ombudsman's Office, discovering the inside story and investigating how the work of the PSNI watchdog has become infected by internal difficulties.