“There is nothing to suggest that the security forces colluded in the brutal murders”

The Eames/Bradley consultation may be intending to pass responsibility for “the substantive task of dealing with the past” to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive… but the Police Ombudsman’s Office continues to look at some parts of that past. As reported here, and here, a statement has been released by the Ombudsman on the investigation of complaints about the police investigation into the murder of two brothers in 1993 – full statement here [pdf file] – and, as well as finding “There is nothing to suggest that the security forces colluded in the brutal murders”, the Ombudsman has recommended that the Historical Enquiries Team undertake a complete review of the police investigation.From the full statement [pdf file]

Conclusion

9.1 Both the SIO and DSIO have cooperated with this investigation but have since retired from the police service. The family contact officer has also retired from the police service but has refused to cooperate with this investigation. There is no evidence that any of these retired police officers or serving police officers have committed any criminal offence. All other police officers have cooperated fully with this investigation.

9.2 Mr Cairns and his family have every right to expect a thorough police investigation where every line of enquiry is exhausted in order to find the evidence required to bring to justice those responsible for murdering their sons. They are also entitled to expect answers regarding the circumstances and subsequent police investigation into the death of Gerard and Rory.

9.3 The main allegation of security force collusion has been carefully considered and assessed against all of the available evidence. The Police Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the Army. They have co-operated fully with the investigation. However, due to the nature of the investigation and the request for significant amounts of historical material, there has been some delay in the Ombudsman’s investigation coming to its conclusions. The Army has provided answers to relevant questions and where appropriate a substantial amount of material has been supplied. There is no evidence to support Mr Cairns’ allegation that there was an unusually high security force presence at the time of the murders and the security forces created a clear path for the killers to and from the murder scene.

9.4 All of the available intelligence has also been viewed and considered. The investigation has revealed that there is no evidence that the police had any prior intelligence suggesting that an attack was going to take place at the Cairns home or at any other home in the area. The only logical conclusion for murdering the Cairns brothers was because they were Catholic.

9.5 There is evidence that Special Branch did not pass all of the intelligence relating to the murders and linked incidents to the investigating officer. The Police Ombudsman has commented on this aspect of Special Branch work in the past and it remains a cause for concern. This practice clearly limited the range of investigative opportunities available for an SIO.

9.6 It is recognised that tensions in Northern Ireland were very high at that time, where the police were investigating many terrorist related murders and incidents, for example Officer B was also investigating another murder in the local area. It is clear this would have had an impact on resources, which would have been severely stretched at times.

9.7 Officer A was not qualified for the role of SIO and Officer B clearly tried his best during the early stages of the investigation. Initial police actions at the crime scenes were good and the search for witnesses and identification of suspects were what would be expected of a murder enquiry. It is clear there was much effort during the first few weeks of the police enquiry, particularly by Officer B.

9.8 Although they must bear some responsibility, the Police Ombudsman concludes it would be unfair to single Officer A and Officer B out for criticism when it was clear that more senior police officers re-directed resources to other work so early in the enquiry. However, the evidence shows that the police investigation was allowed to slowly drift along and come to a halt without any finality. There were no situation reports that would assist any reviews; indeed there were no reviews of the investigation that may have given some re-direction to the enquiry team.

9.9 In addition, the family were not adequately kept informed of the situation. It is evident that Officer B did make some effort to speak to the family and although there were some difficulties, he still had a responsibility to overcome them with Officer A having overall responsibility. However, the Police Ombudsman acknowledges Officer B’s honesty in stating contact with the family was not as it should have been. Officer F was the appointed family contact officer and therefore had a responsibility to maintain communication with the family and keep them informed of the progress.

9.10 The Police Ombudsman concludes that the RUCs failure to share intelligence with the investigation team so that they could pursue new lines of enquiry to obtain evidence. The police enquiry did not maximise the opportunities arsing from potential lines of enquiry at the car auctions where potential witnesses were missed and a document that may have been handled by the person who purchased the car was not correctly seized for forensic examination. Furthermore, some potentially good witnesses were not adequately pursued, for example Witness V and Witness J’s children. This was the responsibility of the SIO and his deputy.

9.11 Similarly, the loss of important exhibits gives cause for concern. There is no evidence of wrongdoing but the loss of exhibits in this case is unacceptable and has prevented new forensic opportunities from being explored. This investigating failure is not unique to this enquiry and has been previously commented on by the Police Ombudsman.

9.12 It has been established that on 30 December 2003 police advised Mr Cairns that the weapons used in the murders of his two sons had a history of previous use and no one had yet been made amenable for the incidents involving their use. Mr Cairns was told, “these investigations remain.” Furthermore, the Crime Manager from Lurgan police station has confirmed to Police Ombudsman investigators that the case remains “open – undetected” and is not currently being investigated.