The PSNI has come in for withering criticism from the North’s police watchdog which has uncovered a catalogue of serious failings in its investigation into the disappearance and suspicious death of a former republican prisoner from Derry.
Fifty three-years-old Michael Gerard ‘Shorty’ Hampson, from Northland Road, was reported missing in December 2007. His naked body was found on the shores of Lough Neagh, near Toomebridge, just over a month later.
Although a post mortem was inconclusive, the pathologist concluded that there “must be considerable suspicions surrounding the death”.
Mr. Hampson’s family have always suspected foul play.
Dr Michael Maguire, the Police Ombudsman, working on a complaint from Mr. Hampson’s family, has found that police made little effort to find him while he was missing and failed to pursue all investigative opportunities after his body had been recovered.
Dr Maguire - who said the PSNI investigation “lacked focus, direction and attention to detail” - added that it was clear the probe had suffered because police assumed that Mr. Hampson was not at risk.
Instead, they believed that he was purposely avoiding them after learning that he was wanted for questioning over an incident in the Republic of Ireland the previous April.
Dr Maguire, whose report into the matter is published today, said: “There is no doubt Mr. Hampson’s family have been failed by the police in this case. This is why I have recommended that the PSNI should apologise to them.”
It’s understood disciplinary sanctions were recommended against 10 officers. Eight officers have since been discplined, only two of whom received sanctions at the level recommended by the Police Ombudsman.
The PSNI downgraded the sanctions imposed on six officers and decided not to impose sanctions on another two officers.
Mr. Hampson’s family says the Ombudsman’s report is a vindication of the concerns they have raised since their father’s death.
“We now know that there was a litany of failures and missed evidential opportunities,” said the family. “Had the PSNI done its job at the time, we might now know what happened to him. We don’t and this is very painful for us as a family to live with.”
Police, meanwhile, have apologised to the Hampsons, saying they are sorry that their investigations “fell below the standard expected.”
“They deserved better,” said Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin. “We absolutely acknowledge and accept that there are lessons to be learned from this case.”
ACC Martin, a former police commander in Derry, described the Police Ombudsman’s report as “very challenging” and one that makes for “difficult reading”.
“We have given it careful and serious consideration and accept there were failings in the way police investigated Mr Hampson’s disappearance and subsequent suspicious death in 2007/08,” he said.
“First and foremost, my thoughts are with the Hampson family. They are mourning the loss of a loved one and I am very sorry for the pain they are experiencing. I don’t underestimate the impact of that.”
ACC Martin welcomed the Ombudsman’s conclusion that police did not deliberately try to cover up a crime.
He added: “We will endeavour to do all we can to restore the Hampson family’s confidence in policing and we hope that the current investigation goes some way to restoring their faith.”
The case, said ACC Martin, remained under active investigation by the PSNI.