Northern Ireland Assembly: Private Members’ Business: Office of the Police Ombudsman (19 September 2011)
There is no witch-hunt as far as the SDLP is concerned in relation to Al Hutchinson. We respect him as an individual. However, we believe that he got things very badly wrong. Three reports substantiate that: one by the Committee on the Administration of Justice, one by Mr Tony McCusker and one by the CJI. All were independent, and all indicated difficulties in the office. Indeed, by showing dysfunctionality in that office, the McCusker report prefigured what was contained in the Criminal Justice Inspection’s report. That dysfunctionality does not arise from the flaws of individuals in the office; it arises from the Police Ombudsman’s lack of leadership when organising, dealing with issues, supervising and making sure that his office had a critical edge. The fact that he did not create a situation in which management was able to cope, work together and develop systems and protocols for dealing with the issues involved — highly critical issues for all of us in the House — is his personal responsibility.
It is with some sadness that I and my party ask for his resignation. We believe that a new leader is needed at the top of the ombudsman’s office. If there is no new leadership, and soon, the damage already caused to that office will simply be exacerbated. We want to limit that damage and rebuild the office. That requires a new leader at the top, and this Police Ombudsman should, therefore, go as quickly as possible.
The ombudsman’s office is a bulwark for the PSNI and for policing here in Northern Ireland. We need a good, efficient and effective office, which has the confidence of the community. We do not have that at the moment.
There has been much talk about lopping off or removing historical cases from the purview of the office. That simply cannot be done, because the legislation says that there is an obligation and requirement for that office to investigate those historical cases. That is because, under article 2 obligations of the European Convention, it is necessary for those historical cases to be investigated. That is a legal obligation. Indeed, as the Minister of Justice said so robustly in the House today, you cannot possibly remove historical cases from the ombudsman’s office without having an alternative, and, quite simply, no such alternative has been established.