Al Hutchinson: Unresolved legacy issues left in the ‘too difficult’ tray will destroy this Office

It’s easy to forget now, given all the posturing going on over Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson and the way he has interpreted the specifics of his role and that of his Office, that his appointment was enthusiastically endorsed by some of the parties who now seem desperately keen to shuffle him out the door upon the flimsiest of evidence (now where have we heard that before?).

As Pete has noted, Tony McCusker’s report found a little more than office politics involved, but these seem to have been scaled up in order to punish Hutchinson for his view that it is not part of his job (alone of all the statutary bodies) to investigate past offences.

If I might brigade Jude Collins’s great line for a purpose he might not agree with, Sorry the past is over, it cannot be ‘dealt with’ (unless you’re a cop). Here’s Hutchinson’s presentation to the Assembly today.

The Office of the Police Ombudsman was not set up as a proxy for resolving the wider unresolved legacy issues. And yet we find ourselves cast in that role and getting dragged back in that direction.

Make no mistake; failure to address the wider legacy issues will have continuing grave consequences beyond me. Continuing to leave the unresolved legacy issues in the ‘too difficult’ tray or accepting
the ‘status quo’ will destroy this Office and the good it was set up to do.

As Jim Allister notes on Twitter, four months in and not even a Programme for Government yet. So don’t hold your breath. Just be a little bit sceptical when we are offered on the flimsy platter the head of another public servant as a sacrificial cow for the inability of our politicians to agree a decent and serviceable way forward.

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  • diarmaid

    al must go for the good of the north

  • Mick Fealty


  • pippakin


    Whoever has the job of Ombudsman is likely to get the same flak from whichever side he is deemed not to represent. Hutchinson has not been efficient but I’m not sure he has been deliberately divisive.

    Who would you suggest? Its not as though you are unbiased.

  • Mick Fealty

    Biased or not does not come into it Pippa. Al was deemed to be a safe pair of hands at the time of his appointment since he’s already over seen the implementation of Patten.

    The issue appears to be over the functions of his office more than the man…

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    But bias does come into it, the complaints about him are split down the usual lines.

    I agree it should be about the office but it appears some of us are unable to look at the office without seeing the man and to be fair, generally, if the office is at fault then the person in charge of that office must take responsibility and either clear it up or hand over to someone who will.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes, but that relates not Al’s bias but to the political predelictions of those parties.

    What is the point of spending all that money on reports which tell you that the governance model is a problem if you then give politicians a bye ball to run riot trying desperately to shift the question onto the ‘bias’ of the person *they* appointed?

  • Mick Fealty


    Can you rephrase that last post of yours.

    HINT: try not to make legally questionable assertions, I don’t intend finishing any of these conversations in court.

    Better to lay out an argument with relevant evidence. Better still, just say what you/we *know* to be true.

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    Perhaps the point of the reports was originally to prove Mr Hutchinsons assertion that it was right to change the remit of the office? I did say I don’t think he is deliberately divisive.

    No department can survive without the support of politicians. It may have been a mistake if Mr Hutchinson didn’t do the home work necessary to ensure he had that support.

    He has also in the past allowed a report to be published which contained elementary errors has he not? that was a serious mistake and one I don’t think he has recovered from. Added together it amounts to poor performance. The job appears to be a poisoned chalice but he must have known that!

    The office of Ombudsman should be above politics but in reality nothing ever is especially in the north.

  • Mick Fealty

    Madra’s post makes it clear he was appointed by the Policing Board (a panel of politicians). He HAD the support of politicians. Guess what, now he doesn’t.

    What report do you mean? There was one killed at draft stage because of complaints from families. That’s ‘draft’ stage.

    My suspicion is that Hutchinson did not take an activist view of his role and he’s getting caned for it.

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    He had their support? Of course he did, right up until he didn’t, what’s new about that in politics anywhere.

    You’re right he didn’t take an activists role. I’m not sure that he or anyone in that position should, but it seems to be what the north wants and expects.

    The report may have been at draft stage but its contents were certainly known to all and sundry. I had some sympathy over that because how many in his position do their own proof reading and that was all it seemed to me to amount to, but it did damage him.

  • Mick Fealty


    I think you’ll find it is not quite what Northern Ireland wants. Nearly half of NI wants the Nuala approach, the other half like Al’s. Thus Al’s warning that if they keep on with this push you/pull me routine, it will destroy the office.

    He’s not wrong either. But you’ve got to think that maybe this is where this thing is going.

  • Mick. The fact that the two sides support for Nuala or al respectively may in most cases be predictably knee jerk in a lot of cases, doesn’t change the fact that one or other of the ombudsmen did their jobs effectively and Nuala did hers to the letter, which is why unionists [with honourable exception of basil McCrea]hated her for that.

  • Neil

    I think you’ll find it is not quite what Northern Ireland wants. Nearly half of NI wants the Nuala approach, the other half like Al’s. Thus Al’s warning that if they keep on with this push you/pull me routine, it will destroy the office.

    So half want a Police Ombudsman who’s leaning towards being critical of the Police, and half want a Police Ombudsman who isn’t.

    Looking that the choice, given that his job’s to investigate the Police, being sympathetic to the cops isn’t exactly the first thing I’d be looking for.

    I see your sympathy seems to lie towards Al Mick. Do you think he’s done the office good service, given the multiple reports which have one running theme – criticism of the man himself? Or do you think with his altered to remove criticism of the police for no known reason he’s done damage?

    I would imagine that many of the reports he’s presided over will now have families poring over them to see if they need to be redone from scratch. Who’s to blame for that waste of money?

  • Neil

    Sorry should read

    Or do you think with his reports altered to remove criticism etc.

  • Mick Fealty


    I have no particularly strong views as to how he’s done his job. He’s certainly adopted a much less radical view of the term collusion than his predecessor of Judge Cory, and I’m aware that that is a major issue for many of the family groups concerned with some of the cases he’s taken.

    His draft reports were altered, but it seems he’s been amenable to lobbying from the CAJ as well as the police. It doesn’t look great, but is there any material evidence of what that actually meant, ie did it ever affect the outcome of the reports?

    But that’s not the issue Hutchinson is raising here. What he’s saying is that there’s an expectation upon him to deal with the past in a way that no other functionary in the state is tasked (remember the Human Rights Commission was debarred from doing so by the terms of the St Andrews Agreement).

    It’s not that he’s refused to do it.

  • pippakin

    Mick Fealty

    I was about to reply earlier when I got called away.

    Its about perception, apart from the proper function of the office, Mr Hutchinson is perceived to have been incompetent and that is damaging him.

    I’ve no interest in seeing the office closed. I think its an important position with a role continuing beyond historical cases.

    Mr Hutchinson seems to think his role should only be concerned with current cases and I’m not convinced that he’s right about that. Surely if there is a need for investigation and there is an Ombudsman then that is the logical place for the investigation to be held?

    If Mr Hutchinson is seen to be ‘for’ the police then Mrs O’Loan was seen to be ‘for’ the republicans. I’m actually not sure because the outcome of any investigation in the north is almost certain to please one group as it infuriates another.

  • Mick Fealty

    Only because it’s being spun that way Pip. He’s not saying the office will be closed. That’s not a matter for him or his successor.

    But he is warning that the office will be destroyed if it has to act as the only official proxy for ‘dealing with’ our crappy past.

    Meanwhile we have a police force that needs watching very much in the here and now…

  • Mark McGregor


    This entry seems more than a little confused to me. You are claiming that the report on the Ombudsman found little more than office politics but to support this you use the report on allegations raised in the wake of the Chief Executive’s, Sam Pollock, resignation and addressed in the McCusker report (your link).

    That report does mainly focus on office politics. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the CJINI Inspection into the Independence of the Ombudsman’s Office – the report in the media at present resulting in the early resignation.

    This report, the one relevant to Al, goes way beyond the office politics. It seems like you may have read/linked the wrong report and ended up writing a totally misinformed and pretty misleading blog on the Ombudsman and the report’s findings.

    If you have made this error (and I apologise if I’ve totally misread your entry) it might be proper to note the mistake and then try addressing the issue based on the evidence linked to the case?

  • diarmaid

    I strugle to figure what about my previous post would make you think i’m in any way biased. I only said he should go. was it my name that showed you bias, or would it be unacceptable to assume you judged my opinion as based on my name and preceived political associations, rather than my understanding of the issue.
    An Ombudsman who changes reports to help improve the image of the ruc or psni is clearly not unbiased – this is why he should go. The Ombudsman must be impartial, and i would argue, more strict on the police than necesary to ensure public trust, especially after a sumemr in which the police apologised for taking down flags that lead to a riot. It is clear that the transformation of the police here is not fully complete.

  • pippakin


    Not at all! I merely remembered your name (so unusual) from previous comments. In addition I think its fair to say that most objectors to Mr Hutchinson seem to be of the nationalist/republican persuasion. I believe Mr Hutchinson has declared his intention to go. I’m not sure that his departure will solve the problem, whoever replaces him will face exactly the same division.

    Transformation of the police? In my experience the police everywhere are a pretty mixed bunch. The RUC have gone and it seems to me that the PSNI are reasonably close to being as unbiased as any other police force anywhere. Its important to remember that every barrel contains a few rotten apples, that’s around the world not just the PSNI or the north.

  • diarmaid


    diarmaid is not that unusual a name – maybe you need to get outside of your confort zone. i certainly do not know any pippakins!

    the bad apple are what tarnish a group, and in the past the bad apples rotten the entire force, destroyin its credibility and causing untold suffering to many. and changing reports by the het is not the work of bad apple, but of institutional bias.

    it is even more important now, so as not to go backwards, to ensure the ombudsman office is able to conduct a full and throuragh, and unbiased function.

    it used to be the psni where the most regulated police force in the world, now according to this report, the ombudsman is failing, and he should be removed from that position and replaced by someone who will hold the police to account. this failure, shouldnt matter who comments on it, or who supports it, a failure is a failure, and the report shows the office is not up to standard. he must go.

  • pippakin


    There is no reason for you to remember Pippakin, she is an inoffensive little thing.
    I remember you, apart from your name, because at some time, no doubt in the distant past, I had disagreed with you. Your name appears on my profile page, an ever present reminder…

    Al Hutchinson is seen to be incompetent and for that reason I agree he probably should go. His departure will not solve the problem though,

  • pippakin


    I missed your very first line! can’t think how that happened.

    I had a comfort zone, that was some time ago it, as for so many people in the north, doesn’t exist any more.

  • diarmaid


    in my job i tend to have to agree a lot, or at least be quiet about voicing my concerns so online and when it comes to politics i disagree with everyone so dont worry! i even have been known to argue against an argument i’ve previously put forward – what can i say i enjoy a thorough discussion!

    it will not solve the problem indeed – but then if we knew what would mastercard would deem it priceless!

  • pippakin


    Who could forget that name.

    I am argumentative, stubborn and rarely agree with anyone. If I were awarding points you might well be minus something by now but that’s just my way.

    For the rest? I’m still trying to figure out what you’ve said.

  • pippakin

    Is Slugger having a problem with the profile pages. I can’t access any of them.

  • diarmaid

    well pippakin, i’ll be clearer, when 2 reports say your not sufficiently independent from the employers you are supposed to be from ,and from the organisation you are supposed to investigate and when you change reports from a team such as the HET to suit that organisation that your supposed to independently investigate, then i reckon you should go, irregardless of what politician from what spectrum says what. Just because the DUP or UUP don’t have the cahoneys (or confidence in their position) to say your no longer independent and should go doesn’t mean that one side of the community has it in for ya, as was implied.

    better to go and dispute your reputation than to stay and destroy that ( and credibility) of the office you hold!) If al had any sense of decency to the office he would go.

    btw the many other people who regularly come into contacts with diarmaids will forget the name, and there are a lot of us out there – maybe more with the spelling diarmuid, but it is quite a popular name now ( to my parents dismay).

  • pippakin


    Mr Hutchinson seems to have lost control of his office and that is serious, what is said and done in any office is always down to the manager. In his office I completely agree with Mr Hutchinson having the last word, its his responsibility.

    Outside the office its different, but whilst the responsibility, depending on the situation, may not be as great it is still there. Mr Hutchinson has said that he feels the office of Ombudsman will be destroyed if it continues to deal with historical cases. I hope he is wrong about that since the office is always likely to attract controversy.

    I dislike the idea of destroying anyone or thing and I’m not keen on these historical investigations. Each investigation reopens old wounds and causes fresh pain to the victims. Its best that old hurts be forgotten.

    I can understand that in some cases where there may have been volunteers, there could be additional questions, but where everything is known then I think its best to leave the past where it is.