McGurk’s Bar Massacre: Police Ombudsman Withheld Fingerprint Evidence from Families

The families of the McGurk's Bar Massacre have discovered that the Office of the Police Ombudsman withheld critical fingerprint evidence from them.

The Office of the Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland (OPONI) has horrified families of 15 civilians murdered in the McGurk’s Bar Massacre after it admitted it deliberately withheld from them the discovery of fingerprint evidence taken from the car used in the bombing.

In its 2011 report – which has since been contested by the families – OPONI wrote (7.52 page 22):

“Records show that police examined a vehicle described as ‘car used in explosion Gt. George St.’ The Police Ombudsman’s investigation has found no other information about this vehicle in police records.”

Following a lengthy court battle against Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) for sight of its Historical Enquiries Team (HET) Review Summary Report (RSR), the families learned that the police record was actually a Fingerprint Ledger which not only proved that the police had recovered two prints from the vehicle the police suspected was used in the McGurk’s Bar Massacre but had also recovered prints from other evidence relating to the atrocity.

Police Ombudsman ignored RUC fingerprint evidence
The Police Ombudsman failed to investigate the Royal Ulster Constabulary Fingerprint Ledger

Closer examination of the HET files (page 55) by family member and Paper Trail project manager, Ciarán MacAirt, proved the now defunct HET discovered this ledger following receipt of the draft OPONI Report and prior to its publication on 21 February 2011 – HET records that its fingerprint officer received this evidence on 14 February 2011 and “The HET notified the Police Ombudsman about this development.”

MacAirt raised a Freedom of Information (FOI) request with OPONI in May 2023 and asked:

  1. Why OPONI did not include reference of this fingerprint evidence in its 2011 report?
  2. Whether OPONI investigated the destruction or loss of this fingerprint evidence?
  3. Whether OPONI or PSNI have rediscovered this critical fingerprint evidence since?
  4. Whether OPONI, RUC or PSNI have linked any of these prints – if rediscovered – to suspects?
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MacAirt also supplied the evidence and cross-references above and OPONI offered the following astonishing response over 12 years after the publication of its report:

  • Query 1(a)i - The then Police Ombudsman was made aware of this ledger in the days leading up to the scheduled publication of his McGurk’s report. In view of the quality of the information contained therein, and rather than delaying publication of his report, the then Police Ombudsman was mindful that the matter would be examined as part of the recommendation, made within his report, that the Chief Constable satisfy himself that all investigative opportunities had been exhausted. 
  • Query 1(a)ii – Given the response to Query 1(a)i above, the Police Ombudsman’s Office did not investigate the destruction or loss of the evidence referred to. 
  • Query 1(a)iii - The Police Ombudsman’s Office does not hold the fingerprint evidence referred to at 1(a)iii above. We cannot comment on whether it is held by the PSNI. 
  • Query 1(a)iv - Given the circumstances outlined above, the Police Ombudsman’s Office has not linked any potential fingerprints to suspects. It would be for the PSNI to consider commenting upon whether any links were established by them or the RUC.

In June 2022, the High Court in Belfast ruled that the HET RSR into the McGurk’s Bar Massacre should be quashed as the police investigation was “irrational” and therefore illegal.

MacAirt had raised a similar FOI request with PSNI at the same time (May 2023) regarding whether RUC or PSNI had linked the prints to named suspects in police files but PSNI informed him within the last fortnight that it will “Neither Confirm, Nor Deny” that it has linked suspects.

One of the reasons PSNI gives for this response includes “the health and safety of any individuals that may be the subject of the requested information could be affected.”

Three named suspects involved in the mass murder may still be alive and the families have long suspected that the police are protecting them as they are agents of the state.

MacAirt has asked both PSNI and OPONI for an Internal Review of their decisions on 9th August 2023. He said:

“Our families are outraged that the Office of the Police Ombudsman lied to us from 2011 and subsequently failed to investigate prints linked to the mass murder of innocent civilians in McGurk’s Bar, including prints from the car the police suspected was used in the attack. Far from investigating these prints as OPONI alleges it expected, PSNI to this very day will neither confirm nor deny that the police linked this critical evidence to the perpetrators – men we have long suspected of being agents of the British state.”

“Our families had to battle PSNI in court for over 9 years for scraps of information from a failed investigation. Amid these prolonged court battles, our families raised a separate complaint against the PSNI with OPONI in 2015 regarding PSNI’s failed investigation and treatment of our families.”

“OPONI’s job is to investigate police failures. Instead, OPONI colluded with the police to bury evidence and lie to our families. OPONI has done nothing but retraumatize our families and perpetuate the police cover-up of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre. I have taken this to the Department of Justice and our legal teams as this is a massive failure in such an important office.”

Kevin Winters, Senior Partner and Solicitor, KRW Law said:

“Yet again we have another example of families finding out information through their own activism and agitation. The revelation that OPONI excluded fingerprint evidence from its Report in expectation that PSNI would investigate it resulted in neither agency addressing it. That is terribly disappointing for the families and only serves to fuel suspicion of a cover-up. It took years of fighting through the courts to get the flawed HET RSR overturned. Regrettably, in terms of the OPONI Report and this exposure, it might be a case of legal déjà vu.

In the News

Irish News by Connla Young: McGurk's Bar families not told about fingerprint evidence (link)

RTÉ: Relatives of McGurk's bar victims criticize Police Ombudsman over omission of fingerprint evidence (link)

Belfast Telegraph: Families criticize Police Ombudsman for evidence omission (link)

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