Police Ombudsman is on a hiding to nothing

Poor Al Hutchinson. He’s the Police Ombudsman. The long war ended over ten years ago but poor Al Hutchinson is its latest ‘casualty’. (Of course, I don’t mean ‘poor’ in its financial sense.)

Exactly the same fate would have overtaken Al’s predecessor Nuala O’Loan had she stayed in the job long enough. Her bitter spats with Ronnie Flanagan over the Omagh investigation and with other former chief officers over events in North Belfast pointed the way to other serious ‘battles’ yet to come.

In the case of the Omagh bombing, for instance, it later became apparent that state intelligence may have been withheld both from the police and from Mrs O’Loan.

The simple fact is that any police ombudsman is on a hiding to nothing if he or she is expected to adjudicate on our troubled past.

Investigating day to day complaints against the police is one thing. That’s difficult enough but at least it’s possible. Investigating the legacy of the past, with its toxic mix of secretive intelligence agencies and secret armies, is impossible.

We recently saw the British government closing the door on a public enquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. Meanwhile there’s little or no sign of the secret armies deciding to come clean on their past, in any meaningful way. Paying lip-service to some grand international truth recovery process, knowing it won’t happen, is empty puff.

For our politicians at every level, getting to grips with the past is firmly in the ‘too difficult to handle’ category. There are lobby groups and distinguished citizens such as Lord Eames and Dennis Bradley who have given this a great deal of research and thought but there’s no sign of government acting on their recommendations.

I, for one, can’t conceive of a process that might work.


In the meantime, to expect any Police Ombudsman to contribute to the re-writing of history by administering a series of one-sided retrospective slaps to the police is outrageous. To expect him or her to adjudicate meaningfully and fairly on the past without having the full picture is just ridiculous.

Anyone for the Police Ombudsman’s job?

The post is to become vacant at the end of January.

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday