Northern Ireland news

Loughinisland collusion report: References to RUC officer removed

 The six victims of the UVF attack in Loughinisland

A watchdog has "completely surrendered" over any link between a former police commander and its damning findings of RUC collusion in the Loughinisland atrocity, the High Court heard today.

Ronald Hawthorne was declared vindicated and victorious in his case against the Police Ombudman as it emerged that all inferred references to him are to be removed from a report into the loyalist killing of six Catholic men.

The amendments are being made to ensure he is not connected to any alleged wrongdoing.

Awarding full costs to the retired officer Mr Justice McCloskey said: "Mr Hawthorne's legal challenge has succeeded in full."

He also stressed that a new hearing before a different judge on the Loughinisland case will now be limited to determining whether the Ombudman had legal power to reach the conclusion of wider police collusion.

UVF gunmen opened fire in the Co Down village pub as their victims watched a World Cup football match in June 1994.

Sx men were killed: Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O'Hare (35), and 39-year-old Eamon Byrne. 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.

Mr Hawthorne, a former sub-divisional commander in the area, and Raymond White, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers' Association, both challenged the legality of the findings. 

In a landmark verdict delivered in December, Mr Justice McCloskey held that the conclusions reached were unlawful and procedurally unfair.

He said the report should have made clear it did not apply to Mr Hawthorne - but failed to do so. 

Following the main ruling lawyers representing the Ombudsman and relatives of those killed in the massacre argued that Mr Justice McCloskey should withdraw due to a potential perception of subconscious bias. Their application was based on his role as a barrister in a separate legal challenge 16 years ago.

Even though he rejected claims that he could have been seen as unintentionally biased, he decided to step aside and allow a limited re-hearing in front of another member of the judiciary to ensure victims' relatives confidence in the final outcome.

But before ending his involvement Mr Justice McCloskey convened a further hearing to deal with outstanding orders and costs at this stage in the litigation.

Amid highly critical comments he expressed "exasperation" over the level of co-operation from the Ombudsman's representatives, accusing them of showing disrespect.

"The court has received no assistance whatsoever, it's completely intolerable," the judge said.

During the hearing it emerged that the Ombudsman has announced "minor amendments" to its Loughinisland report to make clear its determination of collusion did not apply to Mr Hawthorne.

With paragraphs withdrawn and replaced to ensure no incorrect inference can be drawn, a spokesman said: "We did not believe he was connected to these events and have made changes which make that even clearer."

Counsel for the retired police commander, David McMillen QC, told the court: "In effect the Ombudsman has completely surrendered in Mr Hawthorne's case and is withdrawing the criticism of Mr Hawthorne."

The judge also dismissed an initial proposal by the watchdog to pay half the former police commander's legal bill.

That would "airbrush" his determination that Mr Hawthorne had ultimately won his case, he pointed out. Costs were also awarded to Mr White on behalf of the Retired Police Officers Association.

Outside court the two retired policemen's solicitor, Ernie Waterworth, said: "This represents full vindication for my clients." 

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