Families of those killed in a notorious loyalist massacre have welcomed a judge’s decision to dismiss a legal challenge against a watchdog finding that police colluded with the killers.
Relatives of six Catholic men shot dead by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in the Co Down village of Loughinisland in 1994 said the judgment had restored “justice and dignity” to their loved ones.
Mrs Justice Keegan dismissed an application by two retired police officers that had sought to quash a report by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland into the Loughinisland shootings.
She held that the Ombudsman had not acted outside his statutory powers in declaring that security force collusion was a feature of the case.
Outside Belfast High Court, Emma Rogan, whose father Adrian was among the dead, hailed the outcome.
“Today’s judgment restores justice for our families, it restores dignity to the memory of our loved ones and that’s the very reason I come here – I am the voice for my dad, he doesn’t have a voice and I am his voice,” she said.
“This is massive. It’s majorly important that this judgement has been heard and that it has gone the way it has. The Police Ombudsman has such a significant role to play in policing.”
The judgment marks a major milestone in a long and complex legal battle over the ombudsman’s findings on Loughinisland.
In a landmark 2016 report, Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire found that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers colluded in the UVF gun attack.
Two loyalist gunmen burst into the Heights Bar and opened fire on locals watching the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the World Cup in the United States. Six Catholic men were killed, five others were injured.
Two retired officers took judicial review proceedings against the Ombudsman’s findings and last year judge Mr Justice McCloskey found in their favour, ruling that Dr Maguire had overstepped his legal authority by stating that collusion had definitely happened.
However, before the judge made a decision on whether to formally quash the findings of the report, he faced an application from the Ombudsman’s lawyers to recuse himself from the case, amid claims he potentially held a subconscious bias due to his involvement, as a barrister, in a similar case involving the Ombudsman’s office 16 years previously.
The judge rejected that application, insisting it fell short of the legal bar for recusal by a “considerable distance”.
However, he then announced he would voluntarily step away from the case nevertheless, to alleviate any concerns the families had about the legal process.
The decision on whether or not to quash the findings was then passed to another judge, Mrs Justice Keegan.
Ms Rogan said Justice Keegan’s decision on Thursday that the Ombudsman did have the legal authority to make a finding of collusion had paved the way for other families to secure a measure of justice through the Ombudsman.
She said it had been a “long difficult road” for the families since Justice McCloskey’s initial judgment.
“It’s not easy to come here and hear about the death of your loved one over and over again and be argued out in a court room,” she said.
“So today that has been put to bed hopefully and justice has been done and dignity has been restore to their memory.”
Responding to the judgment, Ombudsman Dr Maguire said: “We must remember today the families of the six men who lost their lives in the Loughinisland attack.
“I understand the significance of the judgment to them, and the fact that my report on the atrocity stands.
“The court has today recognised the powers of the Police Ombudsman’s Office, in particular its ability to publish detailed reports about the outcomes of its investigations.
“These reports are important for families and the wider public.”