I had been dealing with OPONI for some six or seven years and was getting nowhere. Worse, I had come to the conclusion that they were just another element of the Justice System set up to protect the Police. No other conclusion could explain the letter to the Coroner and the silencing of Police Officer Kane who was sidelined when he came to a different conclusion to Meehan. Other threads of the story, including the improper handling of the case at the Coroner’s Court (to be dealt with later), the fairy tale of the change of the timing of the crash, Carson’s phone call to his wife, and the abandonment of the Civil case against Carson (later), all suggested some dark conspiracy to obstruct Justice. It made me all the more determined to find out how deep the malignancy ran and expose the whole rotten system wherever I found it.
I wrote a book titled “Junk Justice” detailing my experiences so far with the Justice System and up to the adjournment, and subsequent premature closure, of the case at the Coroner’s court. I used pseudonyms throughout in the hope that the various agencies might be prompted to correct their well founded errors without too much collateral damage to the system overall. Sadly, with the exception of the Police Ombudsman, they didn’t take the opportunity which I thought I had afforded them and, almost to a man, decided to dig an even deeper hole for themselves. The book was widely distributed to various politicians, newspapers, Policing Board, the Committee for Justice of the Northern Ireland Assembly (a joke job for the boys) and the Minister of Justice David Ford MLA . He redirected me back to the Police Ombudsman for my complaint against the PSNI. He said “Unfortunately until the formal complaints procedure for both Forensic Science and OPONI have been expended there is no role for me as Minister of Justice to become involved.”
I will deal with it later, but the Lord Chief Justice, on reading the book and the chapter on Coroner Leckey did not believe that I was making a complaint about him in the book and so took no further action.
I was in two minds about it but I decided to follow the instructions of the Justice Minister and on 27th April 2011 and so I submitted another formal complaint to OPONI.
My submission included Meehan’s ready acceptance of the false Police Report, the sidestepping of the expert Police investigator Mr Kane, Meehan’s findings in his letter to the Coroner, and his failure to properly investigate the change in the telephone call. I also complained about the totally misleading and ill-informed letter distributed by Mr Clerkin. I received a speedy reply and it was decided that, since I was about to go on an extended tour of Australia and New Zealand, nothing much could happen until my return in early October.
A week after my return, I met with Mr Beacon who was acting Director of Investigations with OPONI together with assistant “Alison”. He explained that he had been a member of the RUC for many years, and he was a Senior Accident Investigator and was a member of the Investigators Institute. He explained any connections he had with any of the people in the book which he had read and found “most interesting” and asked me to expand on some of the conclusions and assertions I has made in it. To my delight he had also spoken with Mr Kane who was still seconded to OPONI.
I was left with the distinct impression that he was both honest and forthright and I would cooperate with him in any way I could. He had already initiated an investigation into the case with Superintendent Muir Clarke and asked me to send him a copy of the book to help him with enquiries. As well as my list of complaints in my letter he would seek from Legal Services the explanation of Section 63 and review what Sgt McBride said in his interview. He had already visited the site of the crash.
On 20th December 2011 I met with Mr Beacon and Mr Kane who had been involved in the review of the case and they told me that they had completed the work and a Report of their work had been passed upstairs for consideration. Mr Beacon said that amongst other discoveries they had found a note written by the pathologist on the night of the crash when the Police had phoned to report the death. The note read “Heart Attack ??” The pathologist agreed to retain the note until further notice.
By 8th May 2012 I was told the Police had still not completed their investigations, and that the PONI’s Report which was now complete could not be released until the Police Report was ready. I was told the Coroner was also waiting to see the result of both.
From a purist’s point of view, I would have hoped that both Reports were kept from one another, but I was beginning to recover some of my faith in the Justice Syatem so I let it lie.
On 7th June I was briefed by Mr Kennedy on the contents of his completed Report on behalf of the PSNI.
On 8th June Mr Beacon asked me for my response to the PSNI Report. I told him it was mixed but would wait for the written Police Report.
On 14th June I was informed by Mr Beacon that the management of OPONI had agreed that I would receive a letter of apology from OPONI and he would personally deliver it. The contents of the letter would have to be approved by both Management and Legal Branch and would probably take about six weeks. Clearly a spade wouldn’t be referred to as a spade.
The new Ombudsman arrived in Post in July 2012 and i received the apology on 24th September 2012.
The next post will be a copy of that letter of apology from OPONI.
All of this could have been avoided from the beginning if the Police and the Ombudsman had been of the calibre and integrity of men like Police Officer Kane or Mr Beacon.
As will be published in later posts, too many members of the various Justice Agencies continue to practice their dark arts to the detriment of the general public they have sworn to serve.
The next post will see an end to my dealings with the Police Ombudsman and my tale of the good parts of the curate’s egg. In spite of the good work these two employees did to expose the truth, it was ineffective in correcting Police corruption and was used simply as a useful tool to use by the Police to delay and cover up their unjust practices.
In the end I decided that the Ombudsman was a toothless tiger devised to give the appearance of a check on injustice but with no power to ensure that the truth is acted upon and the perpetrators of the injustice dealt with.
The Minister of Justice has no responsibility for injustice and its responsibility for policing as detailed in its list of Responsibilities is another red herring even though it is meant to reflect the work of the Home Office in the rest of the UK.
Before I close this post You may like to know something about the back story to my dealings with the Police Ombudsman. When the investigation was fully under way by Mr Meehan, OPONI was led by the newly appointed Al Hutchinson, an ex Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer who came to the job in June 2006. He had previously been recruited by Chris Patton to help him break up the Royal Ulster Constabulary and replace it with the new politically Police Service of Northern Ireland.
I suspect that it was probably the case that he saw himself as part creator of the new PSNI and he had an inclination to protect it at all costs. He clearly carried this view into his new post and thought his primary task was to protect the PSNI from outside criticism or complaint. It is easy to imagine that my complaint was one of many he tried to ameliorate to both protect the Police Officers involved and the PSNI as a whole.
It is also easy to imagine that he pressured an inexperienced investigator like Mr Meehan into moderating or changing his findings to remove criticism from the PSNI. My considered assessment of Mr Meehan was that he was not capable of changing his own findings without the persuasion of someone senior to him.
It is also easy to imagine that he blocked Mr Kane’s findings from publication and even had a hand in Mr Clerkin’s dodgy letter.
Clearly I was not the only possible victim of his personal interference into investigations. It was clear that this was the cause, or some version of it, that eventually led to the resignation of several of his senior staff, apparently because of a series of altered Reports initiated by him.
In September 2011 the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, who also refused to call a spade a spade , found in him a “lowering of independence”. A translation might be that he modified Investigators’ Reports to favour the Police version. He was just another well paid member of the justice System who feels he can write his own rules with impunity and know and expect that it will be covered up if he is caught doing it.
AS a result of the increasing criticism leveled against him he resigned in January 2012 with another year of his contract to run. I wonder how much he was paid to resign before his contract was up.
A new Ombudsman, Doctor Michael Maguire, took over the post in July 2012
One of his first jobs was to approve the written apology to me. I think it was the first such apology ever written by OPONI