A report into one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles was put on hold today after bereaved relatives hit out at its findings.
Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said he had shelved his review of the bombing of a north Belfast bar in December 1971 which claimed 15 lives after criticism of his decision to largely exonerate police handling of the case.
Campaigners said the then Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had helped maintain false claims by military and political leaders that the IRA was responsible for the bombing, when it was known that loyalists planted the device in the nationalist New Lodge area.
Today Mr Hutchinson said: “I am aware the relatives have concerns about some aspects of the report and for that reason I have decided not to publish it until I hear those concerns in detail.”
Children and pensioners were killed in the attack on McGurk's bar.
The allegation that the explosion in the Catholic pub was an IRA “own goal” added to the pain felt by the bereaved since it falsely implied that some of those in the pub may have been paramilitaries.
The Ombudsman’s office had seen security documents which pointed to an official policy to portray the attack as being the work of republicans.
This was despite the fact that a retired military information officer interviewed by the Ombudsman said that, within a day of the attack, the military were aware the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was involved.
In 1977 a member of the UVF admitted to driving the gang’s getaway car - confirming the long-held belief that the attack was a loyalist bombing of what would have been seen as a Catholic target.
Relatives given access to the Police Ombudsman’s report yesterday hit out at his conclusion that there was no suggestion that police failed to conduct a thorough investigation.
A spokesman said: “Investigators have found no evidence that police or the security forces conspired with the bombers before, during or after the incident, nor any evidence of police criminality or misconduct.”
The Police Ombudsman’s office was created as part of the wider reform of the police service in the North. It is tasked to provide independent oversight of police activities, but also examines some cases from the decades of violence.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said: “The report given to the relatives of those killed in the UVF attack on McGurk’s bar yesterday was so inaccurate that it couldn’t even get the year the attack happened and the names of those killed correct.
“It has caused justifiable anger and it is only right that the Ombudsman bins this deeply flawed report.
“What needs to happen now is not for a rehash of what was given to the families yesterday but a new report which accurately deals with the facts in the case.
“These include the reality that the RUC wrongly and deliberately blamed the IRA for the bombing and that this was backed by the political establishment of the time.”
He added: “The way in which the office of the Police Ombudsman has conducted this report reflects badly on them. There is now a job to rebuild public confidence in their work.
“This needs to start with the production of a report into the McGurk’s Bar bombing which gets to the truth and delivers for the families.”