Last week, Newton Emerson took the PSNI to task for what he described as an “appalling, farcical and totally unacceptable” conviction rate for murders. “Either the PSNI is not capable of doing its job or the PSNI has been told not to do its job,” he wrote. Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan has written a response in today’s Irish News:”The police service will always accept and take on board criticism when it is justified but will not accept sweeping, inaccurate statements which do not take into consideration the complexities of murder investigations and the need to gather sufficient evidence within the legal framework to secure prosecutions,” he writes. This letter comes alongside controversy over the Gerard Lawlor murder case, with allegations that police have failed to act on information supplied by a new witness. The Irish News is also reporting that the Ombudsman is recommending re-opening the police file on the loyalist gun attack on Jason O’Halloran and his friend Jim Burns in 2002. Ballistics have revealed that the gun used in that attack was not the same gun used to murder Gerard Lawlor an hour later that night. Jason O’Halloran describes his contact with the PSNI: “I was shot on the Sunday night, the PSNI called to the hospital to take a statement from me on the Wednesday, at the time I was on large doses of pain killers and just wasn’t up to it. It was almost a month later before there was any attempt to get a statement from myself and Jim Burns and that was only because we made an appointment to go to Antrim Road station ourselves. After we made the statements we never heard another thing about the case.” Allegations of police collusion with the UDA are also swirling about the violent events of that night.
Murder clear-up item was gratuitous and groundless
Peter Sheridan Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Operation
I am writing to express my extreme disappointment at Newton Emerson’s column in
The Irish News on Thursday December 28 in which he makes what we consider to be a number of highly irresponsible claims about the PSNI’s ability and commitment in solving murders.
Let me categorically state from the outset that murder is the most heinous of crimes.
It strikes at the very heart of a civilised society and my officers carry out investigations with the utmost professionalism.
To suggest anything to the contrary is an insult to their dedication and integrity.
It is also a gratuitous insult for Mr Emerson to write: “Either the PSNI is not capable of doing its job or the PSNI has been told not to do its job.”
I can assure the columnist that no matter how complex the murder; no matter what the sensitivities are, the police have one simple, clear objective – that is to gather sufficient evidence to bring the killer before a court of law and secure a conviction.
This is our firm commitment to the community and families of murder victims who deserve nothing less.
From April 1 to December 22 2006 there were 18 murders.
In 15 of those cases people have been charged with murder and have appeared before a court.
Since the inception of the police service in 2001 there have been 162 murders.
During that time, police charged people with murder in relation to 145 cases (some of which may pre-date 2001).
It would be misleading for me to suggest that convictions were achieved in all cases.
However, the statistics clearly demonstrate our commitment to investigating these serious crimes and bringing people to justice.
The organisation is more than fit for purpose and is clearly having a real impact in tackling serious crime.
All murders are investigated by officers from Crime Operations Major Investigation Teams who are trained to the highest national standards.
The establishment of Crime Operations in 2004 brought together all areas of serious crime investigation, including intelligence, under a single department.
This major restructuring has been instrumental in ensuring consistency and a better sharing of information.
Crime Operations also carry out reviews into all unsolved murders which remain undetected 28 days into the investigation to ensure that all investigative opportunities are fully exploited.
The Historical Enquiries Team was set up at the start of 2006 to reexamine all deaths attributable to the Troubles.
The team ensures that all investigative and evidential opportunities are fully explored and assists in bringing a measure of resolution to the families of victims.
Mr Emerson claims that criticisms of police performance in murder investigations are met with a ‘stock answer’ that the PSNI needs more cooperation from the public.
It is not a ‘stock answer’. Vital evidence from the public is the central tenet of any investigation and more often than not a court conviction can only be secured through getting such evidence.
In the context of Northern Ireland, investigations – particularly in relation to paramilitary-related murders – have been seriously hampered in the past by witnesses too afraid to come forward to police for fear of reprisals.
This is not an excuse – it is a fact.
Despite this, we have charged loyalists and republicans with murder and numerous other serious offences in the last few years.
The police service will continue to strive to secure more convictions but do need the continued support of everyone in the community.
While we will do everything in our power to assist witnesses coming forward it is vital anyone with any information that could assist with investigations does come forward to police.
The police service will always accept and take on board criticism when it is justified but will not accept sweeping, inaccurate statements which do not take into consideration the complexities of murder investigations and the need to gather sufficient evidence within the legal framework to secure prosecutions.
Let me finish by making it clear the police service is absolutely resolute in its commitment to tackling all murders, be they paramilitary or domestic-related.
It is only through working together that we can put more killers behind bars where they belong.
We don’t always succeed.
No police service ever does.
But we will never stop trying.
Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Operation
Excerpted from O’Loan team due to meet murdered man’s family, by Allison Morris, Irish News
The parents of murdered father-of-one Gerard Lawlor will meet senior investigators from the Police Ombudsman’s office on Monday for the first time since allegations that police have failed to act on information supplied by a new witness.
The 19-year-old was murdered by the UDA in July 2002 as he walked home along the Antrim Road on the same night loyalist gunmen went on a rampage in north Belfast.
To date no-one has been charged despite admissions by the then senior investigator, Detective Superintendent Roy Suitters, that police knew the names of his killers.
Speaking to The Irish News one year after the teenager’s murder, Mr Suitters said: “People have been arrested for this murder, that murder and they have all been released without charge – so what good did it do to go and arrest them?”
More recently the family discovered that a new witness, who first made a phone call to the confidential telephone line and then later approached police in person, has came forward and to date no arrests have been made.
John and Sharon Lawlor, along with Gerard’s partner Siobhan Ramsbottom, have now asked Nuala O’Loan’s office to investigate a series of apparently serious failures in the original PSNI murder inquiry.
Among their concerns is that evidence provided by a new witness that could have led to a possible conviction has yet to be acted on.