Ombudsman refers investigation to PSNI after trial collapse

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Media captionLt Steven Kirby of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was shot in February 1979 in Londonderry.

The Police Ombudsman has called in the police to examine the conduct of one of its former investigators after the trial of two former RUC men collapsed.

John McGahan, 71, and Philip Noel Thomson, 64, were accused of perverting the course of justice during the RUC investigation of an IRA murder in 1979.

The pair were prosecuted after a 2012 Police Ombudsman report into the case.

But prosecutors have decided not to go ahead with the trial after receiving new information from the ombudsman.

'Not made available'

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said the new information "undermined the prosecution case" and it expressed concerned that it had not been disclosed earlier by the ombudsman's office.

Mr McGahan and Mr Thomson had been accused of changing a statement made by a teenage suspect in the IRA murder of Lt Steven Kirby of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Image caption Four men who were charged as teenagers with Lt Steven Kirby's murder were acquitted in 1998 and later complained to the Police Ombudsman about the RUC investigation

However, as the prosecution has been abandoned, both former Royal Ulster Constabulary officers are due to be formally acquitted next month.

The Police Ombudsman's Office has confirmed that it had passed the matter to the police.

"Given the concerns raised with us by the Public Prosecution Service, we have referred the matter to the Police Service of Northern Ireland to consider if it warrants a criminal investigation,'' a spokesperson said.

The PPS issued a statement, confirming the reasons for the collapse of the trial.

"We can confirm that we have recently been furnished with certain material by the Office of the Police Ombudsman which was not made available to PPS when the decision to prosecute was taken.

"This material undermined the prosecution case to the extent that we have concluded that there is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction.

"The director has met with the Police Ombudsman and has expressed his concern in relation to the late disclosure of this material. The matter is now the subject of investigation."

'Not guilty'

Lt Kirby was shot by the IRA in Londonderry in February 1979.

In the late 1970s the RUC charged four teenagers, who became known as The Derry Four, with the soldier's murder.

Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerard Kelly fled across the Irish border when they were released on bail in 1979.

They remained outside of Northern Ireland for almost 20 years before they were acquitted of the murder charges and other offences in 1998.

Their treatment by the RUC was investigated by the Police Ombudsman and in 2012 the matter was referred to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

'Disappointed'

However, a jury will be sworn in on 12 January 2015 to formally deliver a not guilty verdict on the charges faced by the former police officers.

Gerry McGowan, who took the case against the two men, expressed his disappointment with the outcome.

"It is my view that this case should have proceeded to trial and have been decided by a jury," he said.

Image caption Gerry McGowan, who took the case against the two men, said he wanted them to face trial

He added that he was "disappointed in the timing and manner in which the PPS have come to this decision".

"My lawyers have today sought access to all documents, including the newly disclosed materials, relied upon by the PPS in making this decision and I will be taking advice on this when I have seen the documents."

The Police Ombudsman investigator who wrote the 2012 report into the case was a retired police officer from England.

He no longer works for the Police Ombudsman.

The investigator had been tasked with examining allegations of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the 1970s.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland have now been asked to examine whether the investigator should face the same charge.