NI Police Ombudsman Chief Executive resigns

The BBC’s Vincent Kearney reports that Sam Pollock, Chief Executive at the NI Police Ombudsman‘s office since the post was created ten and a half years ago, has resigned.  From the BBC report

Sam Pollock claims the office’s independence has been undermined by meddling from senior civil servants at the Department of Justice.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said it had always respected the office’s independence.

The ombudsman also strongly rejected claims the office’s independence had been undermined.

Al Hutchinson said the independence of the ombudsman was “guaranteed by law” and he could confirm that “independence is both real and practical, as demonstrated by our reports”.

“If it were otherwise, I would say so,” he added.

Hmm…

Update  According to a BBC report

Justice Minister David Ford has asked for a report into the allegations made by the chief executive of the Police Ombudsman office.

A “report” from whom?

Adds  The updated BBC report now states that the review will be “independent”.

Mr Ford said he would announce the person tasked with the review “in the coming days”.

Final Update  From the NI Justice Minister’s statement

David Ford said: “I am committed to maintaining the independence of the Ombudsman’s office.  While these allegations are serious in nature, it will be important to see the concerns documented and substantiated as a first step.  I plan to announce the individual who will take this forward in the coming days.”

The Terms of Reference will be published when the reviewer is appointed.

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  • Lionel Hutz

    This has massive implications for the Police Ombudsman. I couldn’t figure out what the nature of the interference was supposed to be but any interference is a massive embarassment

  • pippakin

    Hopefully Mr Pollack is able to back up his claims with paperwork or emails etc. If not his very serious allegations may not go very far and they deserve proper, independent, (if there is such a thing in the north) investigation.

  • al

    Intertesting to see what comes of this especially with the election around the corner and David Ford already walking a tightrope.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Is David Ford walking a tightrope?

    Hope he falls off

  • Alias

    “If it were otherwise, I would say so,” he added.

    Of course, but the chief executive for over 10 years has said it is otherwise, and that Mr HUtchinson has made it otherwise.

    “It is understood that his letter contains strong criticism of the relationship between the ombudsman’s office and the police and senior civil servants, since Mr Hutchinson took over the job almost three-and-a half years ago.

    It suggests the independence of the office has been compromised.”

    At any rate, it is a very serious allegation and one that probably won’t be properly investigated.

  • Mr Crumlin

    I think Lionel makes a good point – what sort of interference are we talking about? If its into an investigation then that has serious implications. If its about how they run the place (like should have taken place at the Water Service) then thats not such an issue.

    Show us what you mean Mr Pollock.

  • joeCanuck

    Mr.Pollack has been in the position for over 10 years so his decision to resign and make a claim of political interfence can’t have been taken lightly. His claim does need to be taken seriously. Of course it brings in “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Who can investigate?

  • Alias

    “If its about how they run the place (like should have taken place at the Water Service) then thats not such an issue.”

    I doubt the that the police were ‘interfering’ in the Ombudsman’s Office in regard to where it should buy its paperclips or how many forms should be filled out in the process.

    And even if the NIO where interfering in administrative affairs, then that is unlikely to be a matter that the CEO would feel strongly about such that he resigns.

    If the “independence of the office has been compromised” then that means that it is no longer operating in the interests of the complainant but in the interests of the state. In other words, its a fraud run by state stooges – or so it now seems.

  • starling

    Sounds like its about interfering in investigations, altering reports and access to information. Might explain the why some reports had to be changed and some have been delayed.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Alias,

    Thats the very extreme interpretation and the likely interpretation of many if the question remains unanswered. You’re right that it must have been serious enough to make him resign, unless it is to be claimed that the CEO is not acting in good faith for whatever reason.

    But it was left very vague. I don’t know the “ins and outs” of the business of the Ombudsman or the scope for the civil servants or police to interfere but it is conceivable that the ineterference is a lot less dramatic.

    I took it from the statement that it was a civil servants agenda rather than a police agenda. That could be more to do with timing of reports etc.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    The Ombudsman’s office was compromised as soon as a report was rewritten to fall into line with the ‘truth’ as perceived by a special interest group; and that was a disappointment given the office’s uphill struggle to build up its credibility after the arrival of Al Hutchinson had been largely successful.

  • Lionel Hutz

    That was a very embarassing episode, where the PO didn’t really give an explanation

  • jthree

    Pollock was told (not by Al): ‘there will be no more Ballasts’

  • Here’s my transcript from the BBC video. The time period referred to is the past three and a half years ie since the arrival of the current ombudsman.

    “Sources have told the BBC that Sam Pollock claims that during that time he observed systematic and sustained interference and meddling by senior civil servants.

    They say he also refers to a significant lowering of the professional independence between the Office of the Ombudsman and the PSNI.

    It’s understood the outgoing Chief Executive also claims that when he raised concerns about these issues he was subjected to personal and damaging attacks, including false and malicious allegations made by officials from the Department of Justice.”

    IMO these are very serious charges but it would be very difficult to get an independent assessment of their validity.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    How can Hutchinson still be in position after the shambles of the McGurk’s Bar report – he has zero credibility.

  • andnowwhat

    Totally agree Sammy.

    The man seems very weak in a position that not only needs a strong person but one that is clearly so.

    Can someone please explain if by complaining about the Department of Justice? Is that David Ford’s office or something else?

  • Mark McGregor

    As the DoJ has only existed under the control of Mr Ford and for a very short period of time….and a long serving Chief Executive of a supposedly independent body suddenly criticises this Dept after 10 years of not a peep…

    Hardly a ringing endorsement of Mr Ford’s credentials as he pitches for legitimate Ministerial positions in addition to the one his party had/has no right to.

  • starling

    Sammys right, Hutchinson has zero credibility, his position has become increasingly untenable. Its looking more and more like he was a political appointment especially as the NIO and PSNI were never big fans of O’Loan’s . No doubt theres more to this story yet to come out and dont be suprised to hear in the future there are questions around his appointment.

  • Pete Baker

    Premature speculation, again…

  • andnowwhat

    @Starling

    I think you are on the money.

    Pete. Surely the point of a blog is to discuss the topic? Fair enough, this could well be “disgruntled man spits dummy”, but we go on what we know now based on things such as Hutchinson’s poor performance.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Pete,

    “Premature speculation”

    Speculation, by its nature, does tend to be in advance of the facts.

  • andnowwhat

    Is a blog not a technological gossip arena?

    That it is anything more is scoffed by professional journalists.

  • Pete Baker

    “Is a blog not a technological gossip arena?”

    No, it’s not.

    It’s governed by the same legislation that all other media is constrained by.

  • Alias

    “Hardly a ringing endorsement of Mr Ford’s credentials as he pitches for legitimate Ministerial positions in addition to the one his party had/has no right to.”

    The timeframe coincides with the appointment of Al Hutchinson as Police Ombudsman by Her Majesty in mid 2007, and not with the appointment of the David Ford, so his problem is with the independence of the former and not the latter.

    However, David Ford has been Justice Minister for a year; and as PONI is accountable to his department, he will have questions to answer if it is the case, as it is alleged by the CEO to be, that the independence of PONI has been compromised.

    It will fall to his department to investigate what the problem actually is and to correct it, so it’ll be interesting to see if he steps up to the plate or if he is just another state stooge.

  • Alias, as the Department of Justice is part of the controversy it could hardly be expected to supervise an independent investigation let alone carry one out.

  • joeCanuck

    Nevin,

    You are forgetting that “here” is not north Korea. Nothing is possible there; anything is possible here. Not to say that it would be right.

  • Joe, in this dispute departmental officials have been accused of meddling by a senior watchdog; in another dispute I’ve covered extensively the watchdog invited a Permanent Secretary to, er, meddle.

    If you check out these links you’ll probably appreciate why I’ve often called for a much greater separation between government and watchdogs.

  • Cynic2

    “greater separation between government and watchdogs”

    keep hoping. This junta of an administration like their watchdogs to have their tongues removed and teeth pulled out. That way they don’t get in the way of the important work of appointing cronies to jobs, helping out ‘friends’, etc.

    What else is politics for …and isn’t it great that we are now all in it together

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/furious-mla-slams-policing-board-treatment-of-chief-who-quit-job-15123328.html

    A few weeks ago the CEO of the Policing Board resigned “The Northern Ireland Policing Board is in crisis after the forced resignation of its chief executive, a board member has claimed…The former chief executive of Castlereagh Borough Council had been the subject of an external review over claims he was under-performing in his role.

    He left the board to go on sick leave shortly after management consultant Dr Alan Lennon presented his findings….
    Mr Spratt said he feared for the future of the Policing Board after seeing how Mr Donaldson had been treated by his colleagues.

    “I think he was forced into going on health leave because he could no longer work in the environment created around him,” he said.

    “He was treated in the most disgraceful and disrespectful manner I have ever seen someone treated…

    Sinn Fein representative Martina Anderson claimed focusing on Mr Donaldson’s resignation was a “distraction”.

    “There were issues of leadership and management and those needed to be resolved, so we did that,” she said.”

    This scenario is being repeated somewhat too frequently at the moment.

  • cynic2, as the junta consists of public servants I can just see the headline: “Servant Bites Watchdog”.

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-13091345
    “Politicians have called for a full investigation into the allegations made by the chief executive of the Police Ombudsman office…”

    Here we go again….

  • Alias

    Nevin, given that the First Minister supervised the means by which allegations that the First Minister had breeched the Ministerial Code of Conduct were to be investigated via the Departmental Solicitor’s Office, precedent doesn’t lead me to expect that any higher standard will apply. In fact, I’d be very surprised if this receives any further attention from either media or the political hacks. It’s just an internal matter that has been contained. If Mr Pollack had evidence rather than misgivings, he’d have resigned immediately and produced it. Sleeping dogs, and all that…

  • Alias

    Actually, given PT’s link, the political hacks are on top of it. But is it a case of bark but don’t bite?

  • Alias, I wonder if any of the new MLAs will play a more pro-active role than their predecessors when it comes to issues such as those raised in this thread. I think it’s time for the bar to be raised – and for the ‘lazy’ journalists to leave it and spend more time in their investigative roles :L

  • Pete Baker

    Update According to a BBC report

    Justice Minister David Ford has asked for a report into the allegations made by the chief executive of the Police Ombudsman office.

    A “report” from whom?

  • Perhaps DoJ should update its website to keep in step with the news. With the controversial departures of Donaldson and Pollock in quick succession I’m reminded of the Oscar Wilde quip – with a little licence:

    “To lose one Chief Executive, Mr Ford, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

  • Neil

    Nevin,

    having perused that web site one wonders what they did for news before Ford was gifted the Justice job?

    15 of the 18 ‘stories’ on that page start with his name, as in ‘Ford did this’ and “Ford did that’. Far be it from me to suggest he’s using it for shameless self-promotion, but he must really be doing a fantastic job over there, given that the vast majority of anything considered remotely newsworthy seems to feature his name as the first word of each headline.

  • DC

    Pete

    Maybe David Ford can come on slugger and tell us all, he is after all a democratic.

  • DC

    *democrat.

  • tyronelaw

    Ford is completely controlled by his civil servants who are generally former NIO. Former NIO officials now also have significant control over the Court Service which was not an NIO department. The dishonest manner in which Lawyers were treated in recent negotiations is astounding. Ford is an NIO dream, the devolution of Justice has meant nothing in reality.

  • DC

    It’s a bit early to start shipping the blame onto David Ford.

    My first instincts were hurrah for that a CEO resigns.

    But given the independence belonging to that office perhaps it is not good – and also define ‘meddling’. You would think the commissioner would also have to resign if it were indeed serious ‘meddling’.

    Mind you I raised a cheer whenever Kathryn Bryans the CEO of NI Water resigned and upon reflection I prob shouldn’t have.

  • Pigeon Toes

    The report is likely to read “some examples of not best practice…but no evidence to support the allegations that civil servants were acting improperly”

    Response ” we welcome this report…lessons learned…The overall conclusion of the report is that there was nothing untoward in the Department’s approach and decision making,”

  • Pete Baker

    Adds The updated BBC report now states that the review will be “independent”.

    Mr Ford said he would announce the person tasked with the review “in the coming days”.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Mr Ford said he would announce the person tasked with the review “in the coming days”

    So will Mr Ford be involved in that decision or will it be a decision made by civil servants?

    The civil servants should be pretty well versed in handling these reviews by now, in addition to all the training of late…

    http://www.ceforum.org/diary/650

    ” ‘Risking it All’ is a short film drama. Produced by PwC this 30 minute film was shown and discussed by members of audit committees and senior staff who serve audit committees at a screening in Malone House.

    When things go wrong: How should a company and its advisors respond to allegations that senior managers have been involved in fraud, bribery or corruption?

    The film ‘Risking it all’ was produced by the Forensic Services team at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The film is a dramatisation of the deliberations of a fictional Audit Committee as it seeks to deal with whistleblower allegations of fraud and bribery by employees of the company. The film depicts the potential consequences should an investigation of this type be approached in the wrong way or otherwise seriously mishandled. Among its many learning points it covers the importance of conducting an independent investigation, the scope of the investigation and what would constitute appropriate and in appropriate action.

    Members of audit committees who attended this session watched the drama unfold. The film was interrupted at various points to allow for discussion which was facilitated by members of PwC’s forensic investigations team”

    I’ve got the oddest feeling we’ve been here before.

  • “the review will be “independent””

    I’d say you’re on the money there, Pete – perfectly right to use the quotation qualification. I wonder will Nick Perry, the DoJ Permanent Secretary, be invited to check any subsequent report for ‘accuracy’. Previous Stormont patterns of behaviour would indicate that this could be a strong possibility. Perhaps we really need more of a Perry Mason figure.

  • “Justice Minister David Ford, in agreement with the Department’s Permanent Secretary, has announced an independent review of the allegations raised by Sam Pollock.” .. DoJ website

    Considering fairness and independence a review, like the judiciary, ‘should not be subject to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests.’ The Department is one of the parties to this dispute so IMO it should play no part whatsoever in the review other than to answer any questions asked.

  • Pete Baker

    Final Update From the NI Justice Minister’s statement

    David Ford said: “I am committed to maintaining the independence of the Ombudsman’s office. While these allegations are serious in nature, it will be important to see the concerns documented and substantiated as a first step. I plan to announce the individual who will take this forward in the coming days.”

    The Terms of Reference will be published when the reviewer is appointed.

  • Pigeon Toes

    ” I plan to announce the individual who will take this forward in the coming days.”

    Jon Shortridge might be available, his inquiry into another senior NI civil servant’s actions seem to have finished about 5 months ago…

    http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/11/24/sir-jon-shortridge-concludes-his-inquiry/

    And still no word on his findings….

  • DC

    Good point Pigeon Toes.

    Never understood why an inquiry was called over that, clearly Priestly as a Senior Civil Servant broke the rules as an employee, it was always an employee behavioural issue, not worthy of an inquiry-level investigation.

    HRConnect should have been called in – investigation conducted and then Priestly fired.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Through various FOI requests, it appears that Mr Priestly was/has great belief in “natural justice”.

    It might surprise him to learn, that so do others, and that “Priestly fired” will be music to their ears.

  • What impact will these latest tribulations in our governance have for our election candidates, in particular, the Alliance Party?

    The little local difficulty at the Police Ombudsman’s office is bound to create a degree of pessimism in party ranks; it couldn’t have come at a worse time. The electorate, by now, can have very little confidence in the so called independence of these, essentially, in-house investigations (note Pete’s quotation marks).

    Nothing seems to have been learned from the shenanigans associated with the Rathlin ferry saga and the NI Water fiasco. It’s a nonsense for a Minister or a Permanent Secretary to act as judge and jury where they or their departmental associates are parties to the dispute.

    By the way, why hasn’t the Shortridge report seen the light of day (see pigeontoes further up)? His investigation was commissioned around the beginning of September 2010. Surely it shouldn’t have taken any more than a week to get to grips with a handful of correspondence. Rumours of the report’s completion were circulating on Slugger towards the end of November but since then, not a cheep.

  • HeinzGuderian

    I prefer to withold comment,until ALL the relevant facts are known !! Old fashioned,maybe……………but that’s how I like to operate !! 😉

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-13144113

    “The chair of the Community Relations Council, Tony McCusker, will conduct a review into allegations of interference at the Police Ombudsman’s office.

    Lat week, chief executive Sam Pollock resigned after claiming the office’s independence had been undermined by meddling from senior civil servants.

    Justice Minister David Ford said last week he would set up an independent review into the claims.

    Mr McCusker will provide an initial report to the minister by 16 May.

    He will recommend whether the allegations warrant further investigation.”
    http://www.community-relations.org.uk/about-the-council/background-info/staff-list

    “Tony McCusker, retired civil servant who in the late 1980’s as a member of the Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU) at Stormont was involved in setting up the Community Relations Council. He served in a number of other posts in the civil service dealing with both community and economic issues and was adviser to Mo Mowlam and subsequently Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Department of Agriculture.”

  • al

    A bit more background:

    “Mr Tony McCusker was born and educated in Portadown, and served in a number of Government Departments including the former Northern Ireland Assembly and the Departments of Health and Education and Environment. He has worked with the Cultural Traditions Group and was one of the founding members of the Central Community Relations Unit before joining Making Belfast Work in 1993. As Director of Making Belfast Work, Tony McCusker led a Government initiative on urban regeneration tasked with the economic, social and environmental regeneration of the most disadvantaged parts of Belfast.

    In 1997/98 he was Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Environment with policy responsibility for a wide range of public services including Water, Transport issues, Road Safety and the Fire Authority.

    In February 1998 he was appointed as Director (Political Co-Ordination and Support) in Central Secretariat which supported the work of Northern Ireland Departments and its links with the Northern Ireland Office. He was involved in the negotiations to establish the new devolved administration in Northern Ireland and implementing other elements of the Good Friday Agreement.

    He was Director in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister with responsibility for the Executive Secretariat and Corporate Services from December 1999 to January 2002.

    He joined the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as Deputy Secretary on 14 January 2002 and was responsible for the Department’s Policy Group. He led the 2003 Common Agriculture Policy negotiations for NI and represented DARD regularly at UK and EU strategy meetings on agri-food, rural issues, the environment and fisheries.

    Tony retired from the Northern Ireland Civil Service on 30 August 2005 and since then has undertaken a wide range of advisory work in Northern Ireland and in several European countries. He is also the Chairman of the NI Community Relations Council and the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland.”