Northern Ireland news

Nuala O'Loan says Karen Bradley not fit to pick next police ombudsman

Baroness Nuala O'Loan there would be questions about the impartiality of the next police ombudsman if they were appointed by Karen Bradley. Picture by Hugh Russell

KAREN Bradley's controversial comments about security force killings mean she is "not an appropriate person" to appoint a successor to Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire, according to one of his predecessors.

Baroness Nuala O'Loan, who in 1999 became the north's first police ombudsman, said the secretary of state's involvement in appointing a replacement for Mr Maguire would undermine trust in the police watchdog

Mrs Bradley has faced calls for her resignation after last week claiming in the House of Commons that soldiers and police who shot civilians were "fulfilling their duty".

Baroness O'Loan is among those calling for Mrs Bradley to step down and believes Theresa May should remove her from the post.

Within hours of last week's remarks to MPs, the secretary of state returned to Westminster to clarify what she said. However, despite immediate criticism from politicians and victims' relatives, it took Mrs Bradley 24 hours to issue an apology.

The absence of devolution means the under-fire secretary of state will appoint a successor to Mr Maguire when he retires in July after seven years in the role.

The post was advertised last year, with applications closing in December.

Baroness O'Loan said she recognised that appointing Mr Maguire's successor was the secretary of state's responsibility, but that such a move would "cast doubt on the police ombudsman's office".

"In the future, no matter how good the candidate, I think there is a problem," she told The Irish News.

Karen Bradley said soldiers and police who shot civilians were 'fulfilling their duty'

She said given Mrs Bradley's remarks, she was "not an appropriate person" to make the appointment.

"I don't think she is capable of being perceived as impartial and I think it's critical for trust in the police ombudsman's office that the person appointed can be seen to have been appointed impartially," she said.

"It is a function of the secretary of state, that has to be exercised but she is not the person who can exercise it."

Baroness O'Loan said that although Mrs Bradley had apologised she it was "very clear that that is the way she thought".

"My view would be that if she remains in post and makes the appointment there may well be questions about the impartiality of the candidate she appointed because she has said what she has said," she said.

"It's not to reflect on anybody who might be appointed but simply trust in the police ombudsman's office is critical to the operation of it and I think what she has said has indicated that she is not impartial."

Candidates for the police ombudsman's post will be interviewed by a panel and, according to the information provided to those applying for the role, the selection process "may include a discussion with the secretary of state for Northern Ireland".

The panel that ultimately selects the preferred candidate will be chaired by the head of the regional civil service, David Sterling.

The panel then provides the secretary of state with a ranked merit ordered list, together with an applicant summary, and it will be for Mrs Bradley to decide who should be recommended for appointment.

A British government spokesman said the appointment of the police ombudsman is regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the selection panel "included independent membership".

"The secretary of state will take a decision in due course based on the recommendations of the selection panel and in accordance with all legislative requirements," the spokesman said.

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