Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

The Police Ombudsman’s Office provides independent, impartial investigation of complaints about the police in Northern Ireland.

We look at evidence to decide whether police officers have acted properly or not. Examples of the types of things we investigate include complaints that:

–          officers failed to conduct proper enquiries

–          officers used excessive force

–          officers were rude or aggressive

–          or acted inappropriately in other ways

The Police Ombudsman also investigates complaints about some, but not all, civilian employees of the police. This includes those performing custody and escort duties.

His decisions are made entirely independently of the police, government and complainants.

You do not have to pay to complain to him.

He deals with complaints about:

–          The Police Service of Northern Ireland

–          National Crime Agency officers in Northern Ireland

–          Belfast Harbour Police

–          The Belfast International Airport Police

–          Ministry of Defence Police in Northern Ireland

–          Immigration officers and some customs officials in Northern Ireland (serious cases only)

The Office was established in November 2000, is based in Belfast city centre, and has a staff of about 150 people, about 120 of whom work within our investigations teams.

 

History of the Office

When the Office of the Police Ombudsman opened for business on 6 November 2000, it ushered in a new era in police complaints in Northern Ireland. Before then, complaints against the police were investigated by other police officers.

The opening of the Office marked the introduction of a system of independent, impartial, civilian oversight of policing. With its own teams of professional investigators, it was the first fully-funded and completely independent police complaints organisation in the world.

The blueprint for the Office had been set out three years previously in the report “A New Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland?” Dr Maurice Hayes, a senior civil servant, had been appointed in November 1995 to review the police complaints system and produce proposals for a new system which could earn the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland, and of the police themselves. After consulting widely with members of the public, politicians, the police and policing organisations.

Dr Hayes said the key to the success of the new Office would be its independence. “The overwhelming message I got from nearly all sides and from all political parties, was the need for the investigation to be independent and to be seen to be independent,” he said. The Ombudsman, he said, should be supported by a team of professional investigators “which might include investigators from Customs and Excise or DHSS, lawyers, people with police experience and others.”

“He/she would investigate complaints against police even where the action complained of might amount to criminal behaviour, if proven, and would in such cases carry the criminal investigation through to a recommendation to the Director for Public Prosecutions.” Dr Hayes’ recommendations were largely accepted by the Government, which passed legislation to bring the new Office into being. The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 set out the role and powers of the new Police Ombudsman, and after some months of preparation, the Office was declared open.

The first Police Ombudsman was Mrs (now Dame) Nuala O’Loan, who was appointed Police Ombudsman designate in 1999 and oversaw the preparations for the opening of the Office the following year. She remained in post until the seven year term of office defined in legislation ended on 5 November 2007.

She was succeeded by Mr Al Hutchinson, who had previously been Oversight Commissioner with the Office of the Oversight Commissioner, the body established in 2001 to oversee changes to policing in Northern Ireland.  In September 2011, Mr Hutchinson announced his intention to retire the following year.

He was succeeded by Dr Michael Maguire, who took up post in July 2012. Dr Maguire had previously been Chief Inspector with the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in Northern Ireland.