Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

Northern Ireland’s police force at the time of the Troubles engaged in “collusive behaviors” with informants and failed to warn victims that they were in danger in a series of attacks in the 1990s, according to a report by the region’s police ombudsman.

The 344-page report into eight attacks by loyalist paramilitaries highlighted “significant investigative and intelligence failures” on the part of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its special branch.

Eleven people died in the attacks, including five who were shot dead when gunmen burst into a bookmakers on Ormeau Road, Belfast, in February 1992.

Police ombudsman Marie Anderson said she was “deeply concerned” by the scale and scope of failures identified by the police service during the events investigated, which came before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

That agreement ended three decades of conflict between mainly Catholic nationalists fighting for a united Ireland and mostly protestant unionists pushing to preserve the region’s status as part of the UK.

At the time, the RUC was predominantly protestant and considered by many nationalists to be hostile to them. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which was set up to succeed the RUC in 2001, called the report “uncomfortable reading”.

“I want to offer my sincere apologies to the families of those killed and injured for the failures identified in this report. We will never seek to excuse bad policing, ”said Jonathan Roberts, temporary assistant chief constable, in a statement.

“Policing has developed enormously over the past 30 years and the police service of Northern Ireland now have greatly improved policies and procedures,” he added.

Anderson said the use of informants was at times “strategically flawed and ethically unsound”. She said loyalist paramilitaries had been able to import military-grade weapons in 1987 and distribute them “because of intelligence gaps and failings”.

The RUC did not “adequately” address the emerging threat posed by loyalist paramilitaries to the nationalist community in South Belfast at the time of the attacks and the special branch sometimes delayed intelligence sharing.

In addition, she found a “passive ‘turning a blind eye’ to the activities of informants in respect of whom police had intelligence that they were involved in serious criminal activity, including murder”.

While she found no evidence that police had received intelligence that could have prevented any of the attacks she was examining, she was concerned at a lack of such information given the network of loyalist paramilitary informers.

The first PSNI-trained officers took up duty in April 2002. Roberts said intelligence handling, training and investigative standards for detectives were now “unrecognizable from what was in place at the time of these attacks”. Two-thirds of the force’s officers are now perceived by the public to be Protestant and one-third Catholic.

The government said it welcomed the report. “Providing access to information and accountability for victims, survivors, and their families is a principle which we recognize must be at the center of any wider way forward on legacy,” it said.

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