PSNI releases intelligence files to ombudsman after dispute

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire had taken the former Chief Constable Matt Baggott to court, over the PSNI's refusal to release sensitive information about informers

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Police intelligence files are to be released to the Northern Ireland police watchdog after a legal dispute.

Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire had taken the Police Service of Northern Ireland's chief constable to court.

He challenged the PSNI's refusal to release sensitive information about informers, relating to 60 murders.

Mr Maguire began judicial review proceedings in June against the then Chief Constable Matt Baggott, who has since retired.

The police ombudsman claimed he had been refused access to more than 100 documents.

He alleged that the information had been deliberately withheld, and that some of his staff had been turned away from police stations.

The ombudsman's office is responsible for scrutinising all aspects of the PSNI, and its predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

Among dozens of cases under investigation, is that of the killing of an RUC officer in 1992.

It has been claimed that the RUC's Special Branch had advance notice of the attack and that at least two IRA informers were involved.

Mr Maguire was also seeking details on what what known by informers with regard to an attack in County Down in 1994.

Six people were shot dead by loyalists as they watched a World Cup football match in a rural pub in Loughinisland.

The PSNI had maintained that there was an onus upon it to ensure that the lives of informants remained protected, and that as such the information could not be released.

It is understood that an accommodation has now been reached.

In a statement, the ombudsman said the PSNI has now accepted that his office has a legal right to see any material it wishes during the course of an investigation.

The information the PSNI had refused to allow him access to, is now being made available.

A member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, another oversight body that holds the PSNI to account, welcomed the resolution of the dispute.

Jonathan Craig, who chairs the Policing Board's performance committee, said: "It is critical for public confidence in the service that there is police cooperation in the provision and disclosure of information to the institutions with legislative responsibility for delivery of independent oversight of the PSNI."

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, of the SDLP, said: "It is crucial that the Police Ombudsman has access to any and all information as the office sees fit.

"It is essential for public confidence and so that victims and survivors can have complete faith that the past will be dealt with in an open and transparent manner."

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly also welcomed the decision.

"The independence of the Police Ombudsman's office is central to building public confidence in policing," he said.

"Therefore I welcome today's decision by the new Chief Constable George Hamilton to release the files requested by Michael Maguire."

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