THE Police Ombudsman’s Office last night defended a decision not to allow Sinn Fein access to Nuala O’Loan’s investigation of a police raid of the party’s Stormont offices.
The ombudsman initiated an investigation into the raid on October 4 last year , which was part of an inquiry into an alleged IRA spy ring operating within government.
A complaint into the police handling of the Stormont raid was subsequently made to the ombudsman’s office by South Armagh assembly member Conor Murphy.
In the aftermath of the raid Chief Constable Hugh Orde apologised for the way his officers handled the raid at Parliament Buildings, describing it as an “error of judgment”.
However, Mr Orde stressed that the search had been fully justified but could have been handled more sensitively.
Computer tapes seized at the time from the party’s office at Stormont were subsequently handed back by police within days. But solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Murphy have now accused the ombudsman’s office of refusing to divulge any information to them about the current state of the investigation.
The accusation comes after the ombudsman’s office refused to provide Sinn Fein’s solicitors with a copy of the search warrant issued for the raid or answers as to whether or not any police officers had been questioned about their role in the raid.
“Frankly we are not only surprised but extremely disappointed about the approach that has been adopted by the Police Ombudsman’s Office,” Madden and Finucane solicitor Angela Ritchie said.
“How can any complainant have any confidence in the investigations being conducted by the Police Ombudsman’s Office when they are being denied even the most basic information concerning their complaint.
“Sinn Fein is entitled to know what the ombudsman has done to investigate their complaint, particularly as now more than three months have passed since the incident occured.
“Yet the ombudsman’s office appears to have formed the view that they are not even obliged to reveal what documents they have received from the police, nor which police officers they intend to interview. “In short they have refused to divulge any information about the state of their investigation,” Ms Ritchie added.
However, a spokesman for the Police Ombudsman’s Office said that under section 63 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act it was barred from providing a claimant with any information about an ongoing investigation.
“We are legally obliged to operate within the law,” the spokesman said.
“Legally we are only entitled to disclose certain types of information regarding any investigation.
“We have kept the complainant informed of the progress of the investigation as we do in all circumstances.
“However, in this particular case the law does not allow us to provide the complainant with the actual information they have asked for,” he added.