Police Ombudsman’s statement on Operation Ballast

The Police Ombudsman has issued a statement on the findings[pdf file] of the three-and-a-half-year investigation into a series of complaints about police conduct in relation to the murder of Raymond McCord Junior in November 1997 and other matters. There’s also a summary here Adds The BBC’s Vincent Kearney reports And Peter Hain’s statement

Mrs O’Loan has concluded that her investigation has established collusion between certain officers within Special Branch and a UVF unit in North Belfast and Newtownabbey.

From the full public statement[pdf file]


33.1 This investigation began as a consequence of a complaint made by the father of Raymond McCord Junior who was murdered in 1997. Mr McCord’s complaints were extensive and the initial enquiries rapidly led to a decision to conduct a lengthy investigation, an investigation which was expanded as a consequence of the emerging findings of the initial enquiries. The conclusions to Mr McCord’s complaint are articulated in paragraph 9 of this Report. They are as follows:

Allegation number one:
That a senior UVF figure had ordered the murder of his son, and that this individual was a police informant;

The Police Ombudsman can confirm that a police informant is a suspect in the murder of Mr McCord’s son. She cannot confirm or deny who that individual is.

Allegation number two:
That police failed to carry out a thorough investigation of his son’s murder, and failed to keep him updated about their investigation;

The Police Ombudsman has identified failures in the investigation of Mr McCord’s son’s murder. These failures may have significantly reduced the possibility of anyone being prosecuted for the murder.
The Police Ombudsman has also substantiated the claim that police failed to keep Mr McCord updated about the investigation.

Allegation number three:
That no-one had been arrested or charged with the murder of his son. Mr McCord alleged that this was because the man who ordered the murder was a police informant, and that this individual, and those working for him, had been protected from arrest and prosecution for a number of years.

• A number of people were arrested for Raymond McCord Junior’s murder. No one has been charged with the murder. There is no evidence that anyone has been protected from arrest for the murder of Raymond McCord Junior.
• With reference to Mr McCord’s allegation that a police informant had ordered his son’s murder, and that this individual and those working for him had been protected from arrest and prosecution for years the Police Ombudsman conducted an extensive investigation which is to be found in paragraphs 10 et seq.

• Whilst there had been some arrests of informants over the years, it is clear that much intelligence was disregarded and not properly managed by police. They continued to use Informant 1 despite his criminal record and the extensive intelligence they held in respect of alleged serious criminality. This allegation is therefore substantiated with the exception, firstly, of that part of which it refers to police failure to arrest anyone for Raymond McCord Junior’s murder, and secondly, of the fact that whilst the Police Ombudsman can confirm that an informer is a suspect in the murder of Mr McCord’s son, she cannot confirm or deny who that individual is.

Allegation number four
That unidentified police knew something was going to happen to Raymond McCord Junior, but that they did not warn him or his family about this danger to protect the police informer who was responsible for the murder.

The Police Ombudsman has found no evidence or intelligence to support this allegation. It is not substantiated.


33.2 Operation Ballast analysed a small part of the informant handling of Special Branch RUC/PSNI. The investigation examined the activities of a number of Special Branch officers of all ranks in relation to Informant 1, and also the other informants who were associated with him. There is no reason to believe that the findings of this investigation are isolated. Indeed given that many of the failings identified in the course of the investigation were systemic, this is highly likely and the implications of this are very serious.

33.3 There have been various reviews and enquiries over the years into intelligence and informant handling by the RUC. Recommendations have been made. Some of these enquiries have been very high profile enquiries, such as the Stevens and Stalker enquiries. The Patten Independent Commission on Policing also made recommendations about the reform of Special Branch and its proper integration into crime operations. Prior to 2002, when Mr McCord made his complaint, the various reports had had very little impact on policies and practices within Special Branch.

33.4 In the course of this investigation it has emerged that all of the informants at the centre of this investigation were members of the UVF. There was no effective strategic management of these informants, and as a consequence of the practices of Special Branch, the position of the UVF particularly, in North Belfast and Newtownabbey, was consolidated and strengthened.

33.5 The handling of informants by Detective Sergeant M and Detective Constable A was not satisfactory. There was no management intervention to ensure that informants were registered properly, and no review of the officers’ performance as handlers. PSNI have provided no evidence that any action was taken by the RUC to deal with this.

33.6 Special Branch systems for information management, dissemination and retention were seriously defective. In effect handlers, and on occasion controllers, determined what information went into such systems as did exist. Those systems which did exist were not effective. There is evidence that information was withheld by handlers. Instructions were given that matters should not be recorded. The general absence of records has prevented senior officers, who clearly have significant responsibility for the failings, from being held to account. It is abundantly clear that this was not an oversight, but was a deliberate strategy and had the effect of avoiding proper accountability. The former ACC Crime Operations has described this situation as one of “plausible deniability”.

33.7 The senior management of the RUC/PSNI would have been well aware of the various statutory and policy requirements relevant to the handling and management of informants. The RUC/PSNI was represented on national working parties formulating such policy. There was however a disregard for such policies and for the law. This had the effect over the years of ensuring that individuals could not be held to account for significant decisions made.

33.8 Police officers at all levels working in Special Branch very often determined the future dissemination, if any, of intelligence held within Special Branch, to officers outside Special Branch. Had the necessary systems of accountability been in place the situation which is described in this Report should not have arisen. However the reality was that a Constable or a Sergeant could, and did, refuse to divulge information even to senior officers, and the mechanisms by which the decisions of individual Special Branch officers could be challenged were not used effectively by senior officers. The Special Branch liaison officer for any particular investigation, who was responsible for the verbal passing of information, was very often the handler of an informant who was a prime suspect for the particular crime. The Police Ombudsman also identified abuses of the existing controls for dissemination which often resulted in the failure to disseminate information at an appropriate time. There was no documented record of the reasons for the decision making in this area.

33.9 It would be easy, and indeed tempting, to examine and severely criticise the junior officers’ conduct in dealing with the various informants. These officers are not blameless. However they could not have operated as they did without knowledge and support at the highest levels of the RUC/PSNI. Chief Officers should have been aware of the processes used. The most serious failings are at Chief Officer level, particularly those Chief Officers who were responsible for Special Branch, since they are responsible for ensuring that training and systems are put in place to meet legal and policy requirements.

33.10 A culture of subservience to Special Branch developed within the RUC. Officers in the rest of the RUC have articulated quite clearly that Special Branch maintained control over those normal ethical policing activities which might affect either Special Branch informants or Special Branch operations. The consequence of this was that, in the absence of effective Chief Officer Management of Special Branch, it acquired domination over the rest of the organization which inhibited some normal policing activities.

33.11 The effect of that dysfunction was that, whilst undoubtedly Special Branch officers were effective in preventing bombings and shootings and other attacks, some informants were able to continue to engage in terrorist activities including murders without the Criminal Investigation Department having the ability to deal with them for some of those offences.

33.12 On occasions this also resulted in crimes being committed by informants with the prior knowledge of Special Branch officers. Informants engaged in such crimes were not subject to any of the controls inherent in the system for the use of Participating Informants devised by the Home Office for use by all police forces. On occasion, despite the fact that they had not given informants Participating Informant status, police nevertheless watched as serious terrorist crimes were committed by their informants.

33.13 The Police Ombudsman was concerned also at the attitude of some Special Branch and CID officers to their obligations as police officers. Some officers have articulated the belief that they had no function beyond intelligence gathering. Successive Police Acts have provided that the primary duties of a police officer are to protect life and property, and to prevent and detect crime.

33.14 Whilst acting as an informant, and with the knowledge of some Special Branch and some CID officers, informants moved through the ranks of the UVF to senior positions. The evidence clearly shows that Informant 1’s behaviour, including alleged murder, was not challenged by Special Branch, and the activities of those who sought to bring him to justice were blocked repeatedly. Records were minimized, exaggerated, fabricated and must also have been destroyed. Informant 1 would have been well aware of the level of protection which he was afforded.

33.15 It is also the case that whilst he was engaged in drug dealing and other money making activities, Informant 1 was not only protected by Special Branch but he was also given large sums of public money in return for such services as he provided. Indeed on one occasion he is recorded as having provided information which led police to stop a car containing him and two other leading UVF men, all of whom were police informants. No arrests followed and Informant 1 was paid £3,000. The total amount estimated to have been paid to Informant 1 over 12 years is in excess of £79,000.

33.16 This investigation demonstrates graphically the dangers of a separated and effectively unaccountable specialist intelligence department with extensive and largely uncontrolled powers. No effective analysis could have been made by the RUC/PSNI over the years of the implications of the totality of the information about, and activities of, the informants who have been identified during this investigation.

33.17 In many other crimes described in this report there were witnesses, who either drew police attention to a crime or volunteered to give evidence, some of it quite specific. There was also one occasion on which the victim of a punishment shooting gave extensive information to the police about what had happened to him. In all these situations the individuals involved were either seeking to assist the police or to be protected by the police. The Police Ombudsman has found that on a number of occasions the police did not use these opportunities to further their investigations. This had two consequences: firstly the investigation did not proceed, and secondly failure by police to use evidence tendered by witnesses to paramilitary shootings and other activity, must have given rise to a lack of confidence among the people that there was any point in assisting the police when such crimes were committed. The consequence of this would inevitably have been that the police became less effective and the community confidence in policing was reduced.

33.18 This investigation demonstrates that one of the greatest dangers to any anti-terrorist work is that, if those charged with intelligence gathering and investigation do not abide by the rules, and if those who manage them do not operate effectively to ensure compliance with both law and policy, the risk of terrorist attacks is enhanced, not reduced.

33.19 It remains the case that there are many officers within the RUC/PSNI who served bravely and honourably, some even making the ultimate sacrifice. On many occasions in the course of the work of the office, the Police Ombudsman has identified examples of excellent policing. This is in stark contrast to the activities and systemic failures identified in this report.

33.20 Since 2003 the PSNI has made significant changes and introduced new policies and working practices in relation to its strategic management of Crime Operations Department, which now incorporates Special Branch (now Intelligence Branch) under a single Assistant Chief Constable. A description of those changes is contained in Appendix A of this Report. It is hoped that the further necessary changes consequential upon this Report will combine with the change already made, to ensure that never again, within the PSNI, will there be the circumstances which prevailed for so long in relation to informant handling and intelligence management and which are articulated in this Report.

33.21 It is evident that the arrangements for ensuring compliance by the PSNI with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act were ineffective between 2000 and 2003. Before the Police Ombudsman drew these matters to his attention, the Surveillance Commissioner had not been able to identify the misleading documentation which was created by some Special Branch officers. Recent Surveillance Commissioner reports have identified very significant improvements but the most recent report still identifies areas for development. It is essential that in the arrangements for the future strategic management of National Security issues in Northern Ireland, there will be accountability mechanisms which are effective and which are capable of ensuring that what has happened here does not recur.

And here are the recommendations from the Police Ombudsman, with responses from the Chief Constable


The Police Ombudsman presented her recommendations to the Chief Constable prior to the publication of this report. His response is as follows:
“We welcome the opportunity to respond to these recommendations. Our response to the report itself will be made when we have had sight of the full text and its conclusions. We have detailed below our acceptance of the recommendations and the actions which have been or will be taken in respect of each one.”

34.1 This investigation has shown that within the UVF in North Belfast and Newtownabbey there was a network of informants, some of whom held senior positions. There should be a thorough investigation of all crimes with which those informants have been associated, in the course of which PSNI should re-interview the Special Branch handlers and controllers who are responsible for them. These officers may have further information about the informants’ criminal offences, which has not been officially documented. Any indication of criminal behaviour by a serving or retired officer which emerges in the course of the PSNI investigations which are initiated, following this Report by the Police Ombudsman, should be referred to the Police Ombudsman for investigation.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted and its implementation is already underway. The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) became operational in January 2006. The McCord case was one of the first cases to be given to HET to re-examine, at the direction of the Chief Constable. (This was under one of the exemption criteria from the normal chronological process, as a matter of serious public interest).
When HET examines a case, it also looks at others linked to it. The McCord case is one of those examined in this report, and is linked to a number of other incidents. HET will be undertaking a thorough re-examination of these cases contemporaneously because of linking factors.
The HET has a good relationship with the Office of the Police Ombudsman, including regular meetings between senior colleagues. A protocol exists for the referral of relevant matters to the Office of the Police Ombudsman from HET if investigations uncover evidence that points to the involvement of police officers in serious crime.

34.2 As a matter of urgency the PSNI must investigate Informant 1 as a suspect for all the unsolved murders, attempted murders and other serious crime for which he remains a suspect. The PSNI should consider these crimes as linked incidents. The PSNI has the responsibility to restore public confidence in what has been a number of seriously flawed investigations.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted and in fact the Police Service commenced this process in January 2006, with the referral of the McCord case to HET. Other linked cases are gradually being adopted into the investigation in a structured and managed fashion. HET will be assisted by the analytical work conducted by the Office of the Police Ombudsman in the preparation of their report.

34.3 Twenty-four percent of informants were cancelled, following the Police Ombudsman’s intervention in March and September 2003, and the recommendations made by Lord Stevens. Twelve percent of all informants were cancelled, because of their ongoing involvement in serious criminality. Those informants should now be investigated for their suspected serious crime.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. At the time of the CHIS review in 2003/04 CHIS suspected of involvement in Serious Crimes were referred to CID investigators for investigation. In the light of this recommendation relevant cases will be referred to the Historical Enquiry Team for further review and investigation.

34.4 Following the recent changes made by PSNI, they should continue to ensure that all officers in Intelligence Branch (formerly Special Branch) receive full training, consistent with national policing standards in the area of informant handling, in all their responsibilities and legal obligations, and that that training is regularly updated.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. Training is an ongoing commitment and is carried out to national standards. During the past 12 months 290 C3 personnel received relevant intelligence training. All staff involved in CHIS management will undergo further training in 2007.

34.5 As PSNI acquires sufficient trained detectives those appointed to Intelligence Branch in the future should have detective training, to enable them to carry out their functions efficiently and effectively, as a consequence of their enhanced ability to understand the specific requirements of Investigating Officers.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. All detectives in Intelligence Branch are in the process of being provided with detective training. All Police Officers appointed to CHIS handling duties are now required to have CID detective experience prior to appointment.

34.6 The Chief Constable should continue to review current process with a view to ongoing effective dissemination of intelligence received by the PSNI Crime Operations Department.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. We agree that continuous review is important and it is core to the way we do business. The procedures for the dissemination of intelligence to investigators is covered by way of a written protocol. Following the transfer of National Security lead to the Security Service intelligence will continue to be disseminated to investigators according to the PSNI protocols. This is one of the 5 principles outlined at a previous Policing Board meeting.

34.7 The Chief Constable should review the continued deployment in Intelligence Branch of those few officers who appear, by virtue of this investigation, to be uninformed of critical issues in relation to the role and functions they are required to carry out, to determine their suitability for the difficult work of informant handling, management and supervision.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted and we agree that it is critical that all officers are clear on any critical issues relating to their role and function. The PSNI will examine in detail the content of the PONI report and, should it be ascertained that an office is deemed unsuitable for a particular Intelligence Branch function, appropriate management action will be taken.

34.8 PSNI should operate processes to ensure that informant handlers change at sufficiently regular intervals and that Intelligence Branch remains integrated within Crime Operations Department in accordance with best practice for specialised and vulnerable posts in United Kingdom policing.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. A policy is in place requiring that handlers should not remain with a CHIS for a protracted period.

34.9 The PSNI and the Police Ombudsman experienced significant difficulty in retrieving intelligence for the purposes of this investigation. Part of that difficulty derives from the current processes for the recording and identification of information as it is received as intelligence. Those processes have been reviewed to ensure that in the future intelligence will be more readily accessible and retrievable. However it is essential that the process and information technology changes arising from this review are completed as rapidly as possible.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. We acknowledge that intelligence retrieval is essential. To that end Intelligence Branch continues to review and update its records management processes. A specific IT strategy for Intelligence Branch to address the Branch’s needs in the short, medium and long term is currently in draft form. It will be approved for action shortly.

34.10 This investigation, like others, has identified a total absence of operational records in respect of certain intelligence operations. Although there are now new procedures in place, PSNI should review the effectiveness of those processes to ensure there is total compliance with the requirements of the law, administrative processes and a high level of professionalism under the new arrangements.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. Records pertaining to operations and investigations are now retained in accordance with PSNI policy and in compliance with CPIA legal requirements. The effectiveness of these procedures will be monitored to ensure that the highest standards are maintained.

34.11 The Police Ombudsman is aware that many officers and retired officers may have police materials and documentation in their possession. The Chief Constable should ensure that every effort is made to recover all such materials and documentation.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. In fact, instructions have already been issued to police officers prohibiting the retention of journals by officers currently serving or those who are retiring. A renewed request will be made to retired police officers to report and return any police material in their possession building on previous work in this area.

34.12 The Chief Constable must remind all officers of their legal obligations under Section 66 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and Regulation 8 of the RUC (Complaints etc) Regulations 2000.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. PSNI officers have already been reminded of this legal requirement. Furthermore a Memorandum of Understanding between the Police Ombudsman’s Office and Crime Operations was signed on 17 August 2005. This document outlines the above legislative obligations. We will use internal communication tools to further heighten awareness among officers of their obligations.

34.13 The Chief Constable must ensure that there is no continued obstruction of the Police Ombudsman such as experienced in this investigation.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted and is linked to the previous recommendation. Police Officers have been made aware that the Ombudsman’s powers as set out in Section 66 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and Regulation 8 of the RUC (Complaints etc) Regulations 2000, supersede those in other legislation that restrict the sharing of information, eg Regulation of the Investigatory Powers Act.

34.14 The PSNI should consider the introduction of the practice of Operational Risk Advisors, as used by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, or introduce a sensitive policing desk / department to provide consistent advice on sensitive and covert policing issues, to ensure that such operations comply with all the requirements of the law.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. In preparation for the transfer of National Security to MI5 the introduction of operational risk assessors will be considered. The PSNI will liaise with other agencies to identify any other good practice in this regard.

34.15 PSNI should review procedures for the provision of confidential information to the Public Prosecution Service in order to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in compliance with the Criminal Proceedings and Investigations Act.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. PSNI has already amended procedures to ensure that all relevant material, including sensitive material is revealed to prosecutors. Given the importance of this issue, it is subject to continuous monitoring to ensure the procedures are observed.

34.16 The PSNI are required to introduce and to monitor the effectiveness of new systems for the gathering of intelligence from prisons.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. A new Memorandum of Understanding has been prepared in consultation with the prison service. This sets out the procedures for sharing intelligence between PSNI Intelligence Branch and Prison Service. Additional dedicated staff are being appointed to these duties.

34.17 Although the Surveillance Commissioner is not within the jurisdiction of the Police Ombudsman, the Police Ombudsman nevertheless recommends that the Chief Surveillance Commissioner considers whether the current processes adopted by his Office are sufficient to ensure that the service offered by the Surveillance Commissioner is adequate to ensure compliance with the law, at this unprecedented period of threat to the National Security of the United Kingdom.

34.18 During the course of this investigation, and others, the Police Ombudsman has identified inadequacies in the procedures for the dissemination of all levels of information between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána. The two organisations should ensure that there are clearly described and auditable processes to enable effective policing operations in both jurisdictions.

Chief Constable’s response:
This recommendation is accepted. Procedures are already in place to ensure intelligence passed to An Garda Siochana by PSNI Intelligence Branch is fully documented. In the light of this recommendation PSNI will liaise with An Garda Siochana and carry out a review of those procedures to identify any areas upon which PSNI can improve.

34.19 In light of the forthcoming transfer of National Security matters to the Security Service MI5, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary should conduct a thematic inspection of the new PSNI processes for informant handling, controlling and management, with a view, particularly, to identifying any legislative or administrative changes which may be required to enable the effective handling and management of Covert Human Intelligence Sources within terrorist networks.

This recommendation is accepted by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary.

34.20 The Northern Ireland Policing Board should establish a mechanism to review the PSNI response to the recommendations made in this Report within a period of six months and at appropriate intervals thereafter.