Ulster’s rotten (special) branch

I’ve been reading the Police Ombudsman’s report into the collusion which existed between (i) loyalist paramilitary thugs and killers and (ii) the Royal Ulster Constabulary over a period of 12 years in the 1980s and 1990s. Even to those of us who always assumed that such collusion existed, it makes shocking reading. As the Guardian puts it:

It is hard to think of a more serious allegation against the police than that they colluded in the murder of citizens of the society that they are sworn to protect. Nevertheless, that is the deadly charge at the heart of the report by the Northern Ireland police ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, into the protection of informants. The investigation started as an attempt to explain why Raymond McCord Jr was beaten to death in November 1997, a few months after his arrest in a drugs-running bust. It soon broadened into a wider probe of the relationship between the Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch and local paramilitary UVF police informers, some of whom were alleged to be involved in the McCord killing. These informers have been linked to an array of shocking crimes. Yet, throughout, special branch preferred to protect them rather than hunt them down, and with the full approval of senior supervisors, even going to the length of destroying much of the evidence.

There has been a lot of grave head-shaking in government circles today about Mrs O’Loan’s astonishing report. But this is invariably accompanied by exhortations to “move on” and “leave the past behind”.

All of which is understandable, but outrageous. At the very least, any ex-RUC officer connected in any way with the abuses chronicled by Mrs O’Loan and still serving in the (supposedly-reformed) Police Service of Northern Ireland ought to be forcibly retired. From tomorrow.

Now comes the bit which makes you want to pinch yourself. ‘Sir’ Ronnie Flanagan, the RUC Chief Constable on whose watch this stuff happened is now — wait for it! — Head of the Police Inspectorate of England and Wales. That is to say, he is the guy charged with investigating whether mainland police forces are maintaining standards of efficiency, integrity and honesty.

Truly, you could not make this stuff up.