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Stormont justice minister breaks silence on Loughinisland report

Justice minister Claire Sugden said the Police Ombudsman's Loughinisland report raised "difficult and disturbing issues". Picture by Michael Cooper

STORMONT'S justice minister has broken her silence on the Police Ombudsman's damning report on the Loughinisland massacre, saying that anyone involved in collusion "should be held accountable".

Claire Sugden's remarks come as the East Derry MLA prepares for her first assembly question time as minister on Tuesday.

Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire published a report on June 9 which concluded that collusion was a "significant feature" in the UVF murders of six Catholic men in the Heights Bar in 1994.

He said there was no evidence police had prior knowledge of the attack, but was was highly critical of the initial investigation.

The report said police knew the names of suspects within 24 hours but delayed making arrests. One of the suspects was an RUC informant.

Ms Sugden has not commented on Dr Maguire's findings but in response to a request from The Irish News, she issued a statement in which she said they raised "difficult and disturbing issues about the conduct of some police officers, in relation to both investigative failings and collusion".

"The chief constable has rightly described this as totally unacceptable and has apologised on behalf of the PSNI," the minister said.

The independent unionist MLA said her thoughts were with the families of the victims who have endured "terrible heartache for so long".

"Those responsible for the attack, and anyone involved in collusive activity, should be held accountable.

"I welcome the chief constable’s commitment to co-operate fully with any further action the ombudsman decides to take in relation to the report.”

The SDLP's Colin McGrath said the minister's remarks raised further questions, which he planned to raise in the assembly today.

He claimed cases such as Loughinisland demanded a more forthright response from those entrusted with overseeing justice and policing.

"It is two weeks since the Police Ombudsman report and this is the first occasion when there’s been public comment from the justice minister," he said.

"The questions for Claire Sugden are does she recognise there was collusion in this and other cases, and does she agree with so many families that the secretary of state should apologise for her remarks about collusion and what she claimed was a pernicious narrative around it?"

Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice also said it was disappointing that the minister only commented after The Irish News made a request, adding that it was not good enough to "merely echo the words of a chief constable".

"The justice minister must demonstrate her own independence by standing up for citizens in this jurisdiction," he said.

"The minister should as a matter of urgency now raise with Theresa Villiers the roles played by the British army and M15 in Loughinisland given the huge accountability gap as regards these agencies."

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