Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire says investigations will be independent.

Dr Michael Maguire
Image caption Dr Michael Maguire is Northern Ireland's third Police Ombudsman

Northern Ireland's new Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire, has underlined his commitment to the independence of his office.

He said his investigations would be "free from police, governmental or any sectional community interest."

Dr Maguire was speaking as he begins his first week as head of the police complaints system.

Al Hutchinson stepped down from the role in January.

Mr Hutchinson became the second police ombudsman for Northern Ireland when he succeeded Nuala O'Loan in 2007.

In 2011, three independent reports were highly critical of the work being carried out by the ombudsman's office.

One of these by the Criminal Justice Inspection found that the independence of the office had been compromised.

'Wholly independent'

After the report's publication last September, Mr Hutchinson announced he would be stepping down earlier than planned.

He said that during his time as Police Ombudsman he would ensure the handling of complaints about the conduct of police officers would be carried out in a totally independent manner and to the highest of standards.

Image caption Al Hutchinson stepped down as police ombudsman in January

"The police complaints system must be wholly independent if it is to have the confidence of the public and the police.

"While we will listen to the views of others on improvements to the service we provide to the community, no-one should be in any doubt that the decisions and conclusions reached in individual complaints will be a matter for my office and my office alone," he said.

Dr Maguire's comments come after a difficult year for the Police Ombudsman's Office when concerns were raised about aspects of how it conducted its 'historical' investigations.

"The main problems identified by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate related to the 'historical' investigations alone and were largely failures in processes and systems. For most of the last year the staff have been putting in place new policies and procedures.

"Good progress has been made and an important priority will be to commence once again investigations into 'historical' cases and to ensure that the quality of those investigations is as good as it can be.

"We will also look at how cases are prioritised and the ways in which the office engages with the police, families and their representatives," he said.

The Police Ombudsman's Office receives more than 3,000 complaints each year about 'current' policing and the conduct of police officers.

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