Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman accused of abusing ‘power, position and trust’

More than 330 legacy complaints have been shelved by police watchdog

Police ombudsman for Northern Ireland Marie Anderson at her office in Belfast
Police ombudsman Marie Anderson (Liam McBurney/PA)

The brother of a man shot dead by the British army 30 years ago has accused the Police Ombudsman of abusing its ‘power, position and trust’ over its relationship with a controversial new legacy body.

Mark Thompson was speaking after it emerged that more than 330 complaints to the ombudsman have been shelved following the introduction of the Legacy Act.

Responsibility for future legacy oversight has now transferred to the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

Many victims and relatives of those who died during the Troubles are strongly opposed to the ICRIR and believe it is designed to protect state participants from accountability.

Legal challenges have been launched against the contentious legislation, including one by the Irish government at the European Court of Human Rights.

A High Court judge in Belfast ruled that conditional immunity and plans to close down some civil actions are unlawful.

In recent weeks around 240 letters have been sent by the Police Ombudsman’s office to people who have lodged complaints.

In some correspondence Ms Anderson said limited resources, periods of under funding and “wider societal issues in agreeing an approach to legacy” have “impeded” he ability to carry out and complete investigations.

Ms Anderson said her team has been working with the ICRIR in recent months.

Mr Thompson’s brother Peter Thompson (21) was one of three men shot dead by undercover British soldiers as they attempted to rob a bookmaker’s shop in west Belfast in 1990.

Following the killings, the security forces claimed that the men had been mistaken for IRA members.

However, others believe the operation was pre-planned and that the victims had been under surveillance after receiving weapons and documents stolen from a car belonging to members of the British army’s 14th Intelligence Company.

 Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson

In a written response to Ms Anderson, Mr Thompson set out his concerns about the ICRIR and Legacy Act.

He added that it appears that the watchdog “put in place systems for the transfer of case-sensitive material and information, much of which was provided to you (your office) in confidence and trust by families”.

“I consider this to be an abuse of power, position, and above all trust placed in your office by our family,” he said.

Mr Thompson, who is also chief executive at Relatives for Justice, asked the ombudsman’s office to provide him with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) “consent and compliance that you have or intend to use in the transfer of information” relating to his brother’s case.

“You do not have any consent whatsoever to provide any material relating to the murder of my brother to the ICRIR or any other external organisation,” he said.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said it is in the process of establishing “a new lawyer-led disclosure unit, which will assess all requests for information”.

“However, it is important to remember that information which we hold about historical matters does not automatically transfer to the commission,” she added.

“In addition, the commission’s investigations are primarily led by requests from victims, survivors and family members and therefore, disclosure of information will be in connection only with those investigations.

“We hope the fact that no information will be handed over without a formal request being received from the commission and without first being carefully considered and assessed by staff in the disclosure unit, will provide some assurance to anyone who has expressed concern that their right to privacy and that of their family members will be respected.”