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Northern Ireland news

Ruling on damning Loughinisland report on collusion is put back by High Court judge

Supporters and family members of those killed in the Loughinisland massacre pictured outside the High Court in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell 

A hearing to determine whether to quash a damning watchdog report which found RUC officers colluded with loyalists who massacred six Catholic men 23 years ago is to be put back, a High Court judge confirmed today.

Mr Justice McCloskey agreed to a one-week adjournment after Northern Ireland's Police Ombudsman instructed new senior counsel in the case centred on the Loughinisland atrocity.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC wants more time to examine issues in the legal challenge brought by two retired senior policemen.

The judge said: "The court will list the case next Friday morning to deal with its ruling on that application and, if appropriate, its decision on remedy and costs."

Last month he delivered a landmark verdict that the Ombudsman's report was unlawful and procedurally unfair. He that the watchdog went beyond his statutory powers in reaching conclusions on events surrounding the massacre which are unsustainable in
law.

None of the police officers subjected to "destructive and withering condemnations"  of colluding with UVF terrorists in the Heights Bar attack had the protection of due process, according to last month's findings.

Mr Justice McCloskey said at the time they had been, in effect, accused, tried and convicted without notice and in their absence. The scathing verdict came in a legal challenge to the Police Ombudsman's report mounted by retired senior policemen Raymond White and Thomas Hawthorne.

UVF gunmen opened fire in the Co Down village pub as their victims watched a World Cup football match in June 1994. The men killed were: Adrian Rogan, 34, Malcolm Jenkinson, 53, Barney Green, 87, Daniel McCreanor 59, Patrick O'Hare, 35, and Eamon Byrne, 39. Five others were wounded in the attack.

In June 2016 the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, said collusion between some officers and the loyalists was a significant feature in the murders.

He found no evidence police had prior knowledge, but identified "catastrophic failings" in the investigation. One of the suspects in the attack was an informer, according to the findings.

Supporters and family members of those killed in the attack pictured outside the High Court in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell 

Police were also said to have been aware of a UVF gang operating in south Down and involved in previous murders. Other failures identified in the report included a delay in arresting suspects whose names were known within 24 hours of the shooting.

But Mr White, a representative of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers' Association, and Mr Hawthorne, a retired chief superintendent and former sub-divisional commander in the area, challenged the legality of the Ombudman's public statement.

Their lawyers argued that the Ombudsman exceeded his legal powers in creating an "ad hoc" investigative system, and that his report denied rights and protections to those under scrutiny. Delivering judgment last month, Mr Justice McCloskey noted how Mr Hawthorne was Northern Ireland's first ever recipient of the Queen's Gallantry Medal.

Terrorists shot and injured him, as well as bombing his home, during a lifetime of police service, the court heard. The judge held that the Ombudsman's report neither accused nor found him guilty of the "catastrophic failures" in the police investigation.

Mr Hawthorne was also excluded from the "unambiguous determination" that collusion was a significant feature in the Loughinsland murders - vindicating him unreservedly.

According to Mr Justice McCloskey the report should have made clear that the Ombudsman's unqualified findings did not apply to the former sub-divisional commander.

He went on to say that a determination that RUC officers colluded with UVF terrorists in carrying out the Heights Bar attack was little different from a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the judge said.

He pointed out that no police officer was prosecuted for such actions or accused of disciplinary offences. A further hearing today was due to determine if the watchdog's findings should be formally quashed.

But following the last-minute change in the Ombudsman's legal representative, proceedings were put back. 

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