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PSNI accused of attempting to 'thwart' publication of Police Ombudsman report into loyalist murders

Sean Graham bookmakers on the Ormeau Road
Connla Young

THE PSNI has been accused of trying to "thwart" a major Police Ombudsman investigation into the murder of 12 people including those killed during the Sean Graham massacre.

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson had been expected to publish a report on a series of loyalist murders in south Belfast this autumn.

The report is the culmination of a major investigation, Operation Achille, into the murder of 12 people and one attempted murder.

The dead include six people killed by the UDA at Sean Graham Bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in February 1992.

Collusion is strongly suspected in some of the cases.

A delayed report into the murders was sent to the PSNI earlier this year to be fact checked and it was expected the process would be completed in August.

However, in an email the Police Ombudsman's office said the process has not been concluded "and there remains outstanding matters".

The Police Ombudsman's Office last night said that in mid-August the PSNI referred "to a potential issue of a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate and Closed Material Proceedings (CMP)" in an email to a member of staff.

PII certificates are often sought when the state believes information may not be in the public interest to disclose. This can include the role of state agents and informers.

The Police Ombudsman last night said the PII certificate had been issued in January 2019 "in connection with unrelated inquest proceedings".

No details of these proceedings have been provided.

CMPs include presenting sensitive information to a court without all the parties being present.

The Police Ombudsman last night said it has sought clarity from the PSNI about the impact of the PII and CMP on the Operation Achille report.

The ombudsman's office was provided with a copy of the PII earlier this month and last week staff viewed material underpinning the certificate.

A list of paragraphs in the draft report potentially affected by the CMP was also provided to ombudsman officials.

The ombudsman's office last night said Ms Anderson has "engaged expert legal opinion to assist her in examining whether the PSNI's position in these matters has been properly made".

Relatives say the long-awaited report has already been delayed four times.

In a scathing letter delivered to Chief Constable Simon Byrne on Friday some dismayed loved ones asked why "the PSNI and you, as chief constable sought to thwart the investigation by the police ombudsman".

Mark Sykes, who was injured in the bookmakers atrocity and whose brother-in-law Peter Magee (18) was shot dead, slammed the latest delay.

Earlier this year Mr Sykes was arrested during a memorial event for the dead on the Ormeau Road.

"The families are devastated at yet another delay, again at the hands of the PSNI, it is now unlikely these families will see an ombudsman's report published this year," he said.

"It's been delay, delay, delay for these families.

"Some families if this is delayed further may not see truth and justice for their loved ones."

Mark Thompson from Relatives for Justice said the "PSNI are running down the clock to prevent the publication of this report".

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said she has written "to the PSNI, outlining my concerns about their assertions of public interest immunity at this late stage of the investigation".

"I have asked them to provide me with clear and unequivocal reasons as to why the public interest is served by the exclusion of this information from my public statement," she said.

Ms Anderson said she recognises "that this issue regrettably creates feelings of distress and uncertainty for the families".

She added that "subject to these issues being resolved" she hopes to publish the Operation Achille report during "the week commencing 31 January 2022".

A spokesman for the PSNI said it "is working closely" with the Police Ombudsman "relating to this report".

"Due to ongoing legal proceedings it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time," she said.

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