Leading article

Relatives endure further pain over legacy structures

While many sharply differing views have been put forward on the best way to deal with the appalling legacy of The Troubles, there will be general agreement with the conclusion yesterday of the police ombudsman, Michael Maguire, that our present structures are simply not working.

Dr Maguire was speaking after it was announced that he had been forced to delay the publication of three key reports covering more than 20 notorious loyalist murders in the 1980s and 1990s because a wide range of significant information had not been passed to his office by the PSNI.

Police have apologised for what they described as a combination of human error and the `complex challenges associated with voluminous material', and insisted that they never sought to deliberately withhold the files.

However, the relatives of some of the victims, including those killed in the 1992 massacre at the Sean Graham betting shop on the Ormeau Road in Belfast, do not accept the police explanation and have claimed that the latest in a long series of cover-ups is under way.

Dr Maguire has previously officially requested police records in connection with a specific list of sensitive cases, and, having been told that they had all been handed over, then discovered police were preparing to disclose further important and hitherto unknown material as part of impending civil proceedings.

The police explanation was that staff assessing a vast archive dating back over three decades failed to find the specific files which were subsequently discovered by a different researcher in connection with a separate legal process.

Although PSNI figures stressed that the material had eventually been correctly identified, rather than permanently concealed, suspicions have been voiced that attempts may have been made to prevent Dr Maguire from accessing it before his scheduled retirement within a matter of months.

Fresh lines of inquiry will now be pursued into two 1993 outrages, the `trick or treat' murders of eight people at Greysteel in Co Derry and the assassination of 17-year-old Damien Walsh in west Belfast, as well as the Ormeau shooting, but the indications are that the responsibility will be transferred to a new ombudsman.

While Dr Maguire has requested the Department of Justice to carry out a review of the related police procedures, which will at least be a step in the right direction, much more needs to be accomplished if public confidence in the entire system is not to be severely undermined.

It needs to be stressed that the Ormeau shootings are among a huge number of different atrocities, involving loyalists, republicans and the forces of the state, over which some or all of the perpetrators were never convicted.

Ordinary people from all sections of society who lost loved ones have been left bitterly unhappy by their subsequent treatment and it is ultimately up to the British government to ensure that their concerns are properly addressed.

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