The North’s police ombudsman has called for an independent review to be carried out after “significant, sensitive information” about Troubles killings that he had requested was not supplied to him by the PSNI.
Michael Maguire said his investigators discovered that the information, some of which related to “covert policing”, was not made available to staff who were investigating Troubles-related killings and also the activities of loyalist paramilitaries.
The discovery was made during the ombudsman's investigation of matters connected to the Ulster Defence Association attack on Sean Graham's bookmakers on the Ormeau Road in Belfast in 1992 in which five people were killed.
The new information also related to the March 1993 murder by the UDA of 17-year-old Catholic Damian Walsh at a coal depot near Twinbrook on the outskirts of west Belfast and to the activities of loyalist paramilitaries in the northwest between 1988 and 1994.
That latter investigation, it is understood, also relates to the UDA murder of Donegal Sinn Féin councillor Eddie Fullerton in Buncrana in 1991.
Dr Maguire was preparing to publish reports on the killings and the loyalist paramilitaries in the coming weeks but they have now been delayed pending further inquiries by the ombudsman based on the new information that has been elicited. A number of bereaved families have been informed.
He said his staff became aware of the new information when they learned that the PSNI was about to disclose a range of material as part of impending civil proceedings. When his investigators requested and got sight of this material they learned it had not been disclosed when they originally requested information from the police.
“Following on from this, police have now also identified a computer system which they say had not been properly searched when responding to previous requests for information,” he said on Tuesday.
“In that instance, it would seem information which police told us did not exist has now been found,” added Dr Maguire.
The ombudsman said the effective disclosure of information was central to any system for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.
“The public must have confidence that, when asked, police provide all the relevant information they hold on given matters, whether it be to this office or to other legal authorities,” he said.
Calling for an independent review of the disclosure failure, he added: “The police have told us the problems came about through a combination of human error arising from a lack of knowledge and experience, and the complex challenges associated with voluminous material (some 44 million pieces of paper and microfilm records) that is stored in various places and on a range of media and on archaic IT systems.”
PSNI deputy chief constable Stephen Martin "deeply and sincerely" apologised and said the non-disclosure was not deliberate.
“The fact that one part of the organisation was able to find the information while the other did not is a result of a number of issues including the differing levels of experience and knowledge of our researchers, the sheer volume of the material involved and the limitations of the archaic IT systems,” he said.
Paul O'Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre, a human rights group in Derry, said his organisation spent Tuesday updating families about the issue. The first priority, he said, must be to "have a rigorous and independent investigation with no stone unturned".
Amanda Fullerton, whose Donegal county councillor father Eddie was killed by the UDA, called for an urgent meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to discuss the implications of the non-disclosure.
“Hopefully this discovery will lead to the full truth emerging about the circumstances of the loyalist murder of my father and many others,” she said.
The North's civil liberties group, the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said the non-disclosure also related to the August 1991 UDA murder of Sinn Féin member Patrick Shanaghan in Co Tyrone.
It added that “these developments clearly expose the lack of willingness or capacity of the PSNI to provide full disclosure to the police ombudsman to allow him to carry out independent and effective investigations”.