Officers disciplined for failures in Máiría Cahill abuse case

The Police Ombudsman recommended that officers be disciplined following a complaint by Máiría Cahill. Picture by Hugh Russell

POLICE officers have been disciplined after the ombudsman found that alleged child abuse victim Máiría Cahill was "failed" by a disjointed PSNI investigation.

Dr Michael Maguire's office found that the RUC Special Branch had information about the alleged sex abuse of the west Belfast woman 10 years before it was reinvestigated by the PSNI but did not act on it. 

The SDLP councillor and former senator told police she had been sexually abused by republican Martin Morris from 1997 to 1998, when she was 16, and in subsequent years was subjected to an IRA 'investigation' of her allegations. 

She has welcomed the ombudsman's findings and called on Chief Constable George Hamilton to meet her to discuss the service's "considerable failings".

Two other women also made police complaints saying they had been abused as children by the same man. The PSNI initiated investigations and people were charged with offences. 

However, in 2014 the trials of the man accused of the rape and of those accused of involvement in the IRA investigation collapsed when Ms Cahill and the two other women withdrew their evidence, citing a loss of confidence in how the matter had been dealt with. 

Ms Cahill later asked the ombudsman to investigate the PSNI’s handling of her case.

Overall, Dr Maguire's office found the PSNI investigation had failed the victims. However, he did not support the allegations that it chose not to arrest some of the individuals concerned because they were police informants or that it had been subject to political interference. 

Dr Maguire was critical of the decision not to hold a serious case review and the circumstances of the police decision to split its investigation across two units: one which specialised in dealing with victims of sexual assault and one with experience in dealing with paramilitary-related issues, saying it brought a "disjointed approach" by police.    

Dr Maguire found the PSNI had an "inconsistent approach" in its investigation of some of the people suspected of IRA membership, which in one case led to an individual not being arrested and questioned. 

However, he said he found no evidence that anyone had been protected from prosecution. 

Investigators established that RUC CID received information in 2000 which linked a man to the alleged abuse of children and Special Branch received additional intelligence in 2000 through to 2001 suggesting that a man had abused children and that the IRA was investigating this.

“However, when the RUC received this intelligence it was not disseminated and there is no evidence of any police investigation or enquiries as a result of it. The material was sufficiently specific that had police undertaken even cursory inquiries they would have identified potential victims of abuse,” Dr Maguire said.

The ombudsman recommended that four officers be disciplined. 

While three have been disciplined, a fourth retired before the investigation could deliver its findings. Dr Maguire also made recommendations for changes to seven PSNI policies.

"I am satisfied that current police practices would not allow such information to go uninvestigated today," he said.

On Wednesday afternoon Ms Cahill said: "While I haven't had a chance to properly digest all of it, the findings are quite stark.

"I am calling on the chief constable to meet me as a matter of urgency. I would like to know that these recommendations have been implemented."

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