The Observer’s Henry McDonald interviews out-going Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan in today’s paper and her comments on the prospects for her successors are worth noting.. as others consider what to do next.
“There will be a reduction in this office’s ability to call people to account. The current situation gives me powers that enable me to examine intelligence information and records,” says O’Loan. “Soon I won’t have that amount of access to information. The security services may co-operate with me and we are working towards a protocol that says they won’t withhold information. But there is a huge difference between that and me having statutory powers to, for example, trawl through police computers and dig and dig until I find something. We won’t be able to do that with MI5.”
“If you have got constables and sergeants handling people who are reporting to the security services then I can ask the constables and sergeants to account for themselves. However I can’t question the security services’ managers about any alleged wrongdoing.”
Also worth noting are the comments on protecting informants
“The whole procedure of Special Branch was predicated on the protection of the informant. So people had a vested interest in sustaining their own informants. There wasn’t a process by which informants were screened or their activities were looked at.” Loyalists, however, were not the only ones protected and, indeed, used by their police handlers during the conflict, she says. O’Loan says she is confident that senior republicans who were in the pay of the state were also protected.
At present she is investigating 10 complaints, all related, directly or indirectly, to the role of ‘Stakeknife’, one of the British government’s most important agents inside the IRA. Freddie Scappaticci was the head of the IRA’s internal security squad, the unit that hunted down and killed informers. All the while Scappaticci was working for the security forces. O’Loan says it is safe to assume that there are others like Stakeknife who have been protected by the state.
And on what evidence she has, or has not, found so far.
So was it British policy to direct agents inside both loyalist and republican paramilitary groups to kill with impunity? O’Loan says that so far, at least, she has found no evidence of directed, structured, centrally controlled collusion. There are, though, she adds, many examples of police handlers being aware of what their agents were up to, including serious crimes such as murder.
Read the whole thing.