FEARS POLICE WATCHDOG WILL BE LEFT TOOTHLESS; Loughinisland ruling rocks Ombudsman.
Byline: MAURICE FITZMAURICE
THE Police Ombudsman could be rendered a "toothless tiger" if he fails to appeal the Loughinisland ruling.
A source familiar with the legalities of legacy cases said the implications of the decision could be much bigger.
High Court judge Mr Justice McCloskey said on Thursday the Ombudsman report that found police collusion in the 1994 UVF massacre suffered from "procedural unfairness".
He ruled: "The Police Ombudsman's unhesitating and unambiguous determination that RUC officers were guilty of collusion with UVF terrorists in the execution of the Heights Bar murders in substance differs little, if at all, from a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt."
But he added that "none of the police officers to whom these destructive and withering condemnations apply had the protection of due process". He could quash the findings on January 12.
Unionist politicians reacted with calls for the Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, to resign.
Yesterday, DUP MP Ian Paisley tweeted: "Today I've written to the SOFS for NI calling on him to open an investigation into all previous Ombudsman reports from the first until now where collusion was alledged and move to set false accusations aside. Let's put record straight!" But a source said the Loughinisland ruling could result in more legal challenges if it is not appealed and over-ruled.
The source added: "There are elements that are trying to Gerry Kelly nobble the Ombudsman. You can't get rid of it politically, it's part of the Good Friday Agreement, but you can render it toothless, make its job impossible.
"There's been attempts to do this in the past through starving it of funding, but this is a similar goal only being pursued in a different way."
The source added that a report from the Ombudsman on killings in the Ormeau Road area of South Belfast, including the Sean Graham's bookie's massacre, is expected early in the new year. Thursday's ruling could affect that report and future reports where collusion has been alleged.
The Ombudsman confirmed yesterday he is considering an appeal of the ruling.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said the "judgment should be appealed as it has possibly catastrophic implications for the setting up of the investigative process of the Historic Investigations Unit".
APPEAL PLEA Gerry Kelly
HORROR Massacre at bar in 1994