Northern Ireland

On the Run scheme: Police Ombudsman criticises PSNI

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Media captionDr Michael Maguire said police displayed a lack of clarity, structure and leadership

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire has criticised the role of the PSNI in the On the Runs scheme.

He said the way the police assessed whether people were wanted for serious offences, including murder, was flawed.

Earlier this year, a judge ruled that a Donegal man could not stand trial for the murders of four soldiers in the IRA's Hyde Park bombing in 1982.

John Downey had been mistakenly sent a letter assuring him he was not wanted by police.

The letters were sent to scores of republicans who were suspected of, but who had never been charged with paramilitary crimes carried out during the Troubles.

Wanted by police

The assurance from the Northern Ireland Office was based on information provided by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

It emerged that the PSNI was aware that John Downey was in fact wanted by police in London but did not pass on that information.

A report by the Police Ombudsman criticises the PSNI's involvement in the scheme.

Dr Maguire said there was a lack of clarity, structure and leadership, and disjointed communication between key officers.

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said the service "accepted full responsibility for its failings which led to the collapse of the trial of John Downey".

'Atrocity'

"The PSNI referred the case to the office of the Police Ombudsman for an independent investigation into the role of police," he said.

"The then chief constable, Matt Baggott, accepted that the failings of the police should not have happened and issued a full apology to the families of the victims and survivors of the Hyde Park atrocity.

"The PSNI chief constable has since initiated a review of all those people considered under the On The Run scheme and this work is still ongoing."

The PSNI has previously been criticised in a report by Lady Justice Hallett, who was appointed by the government to conduct an independent review of the scheme.