Loughinisland Legal Morass

In June 2017 the Police Ombudsman  Dr Michael Maguire released the report of his findings on the case of the the RUC investigation into the Loughinisland massacre.  In 1994 eleven people were shot, six of whom died, in the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, County Down,  as they watched Ireland play in the World Cup.   The report released by the watchdog last June found that some RUC officers had colluded with the UVF gunmen responsible for the 1994 attack.

The report and the investigation which lead to it came to wider attention last autumn through the release of the documentary “No Stone Unturned“.  The film named the main suspects, one of whom was a British soldier, and one a police informer.  Subsequently the Ombudsman’s report has been challenged by a judicial review on behalf of the “NI Retired Police Officers Association”.

The  judicial review which was raised by Former Assistant Chief Constable Raymond White and retired officer Thomas Hawthorne is being heard in Belfast High Court by Mr Justice McCloskey.

The proceedings took a dramatic turn on Friday (12th Jan 2018) when Barra McGrory QC made a surprise appearance representing the Ombudsman.  Barra McGrory served as the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland from 2011 to 2017.  The QC raised the issue that Mr Justice McCloskey had previously, when he was a barrister, represented the “NI Retired Police Officers Association” in a similar case in 2003,  which sought to quash a report by former Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan into findings of RUC collusion in the Omagh bombing.  While that challenge was unsuccessful one of the complainants named in that case was Raymond White.

The Irish News reported that “lawyers for both the ombudsman and the victim’s families have raised questions in relation to this, pointing to guidelines which recommend judges recuse themselves where there may be a perceived conflict of interest.”  

Later, speaking to The Irish News,  Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan’s office  said “Judges who are aware of any such conflict or who are asked to recuse themselves will make an assessment based on the circumstances of the individual case. There was no such awareness or request in the present case.” 

Clearly this case is of great interest to the families of the victims of Loughinisland who would have expected Justice McCloskey to recuse himself and allow the judicial review to be heard by a judge without a “perceived conflict of interest”.

The judicial review has now been adjourned until next Friday (19th Jan 2018). The Irish News concluded that it seems that whatever Justice McCloskey’s final ruling,  an appeal by the ombudsman is now inevitable.

More details in Saturday’s Irish News.

The trailer for the documentary is below.  The issues around the Loughinisland case and the treatment of other “legacy cases” will be addressed in our event on “Due Process and Accountability” on Saturday 27th.