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Rosie Billingham reports
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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 18:59 GMT
Ombudsman highlights police complaints
Policing reforms are the focus of intense debate
Policing reforms are the focus of intense debate
The Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman has said she has already received 701 complaints against RUC officers since her office opened eight weeks ago.

Nuala O'Loan was appointed Police Ombudsman in September. The Police Ombudsman's Office was established in November as part of the process of reform of policing in Northern Ireland, outlined in the Police NI Bill.

The Ombudsman was given extensive powers and a team of independent investigators - recruited from across the world - to probe complaints against police officers as the practice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigating complaints against itself was abolished.

At the launch of her office, Mrs O'Loan said she hoped to change how complaints against the RUC were handled.

Since November she said she has received 701 complaints against the police from both sides of the community and from all over Northern Ireland which are being investigated.

More than half the complaints concern what she describes as 'oppressive behaviour' and more than 270 allegations of assault by police officers.

Mrs O'Loan said "a very small percentage" of the complaints had been proved false in those investigations.

'Complaints rise expected'

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster Mrs O'Loan said that her feeling was that "the situation had improved since the introduction of the video taping of interviews in holding centres in Northern Ireland".

But she said that taking into account the number of complaints she had already received, she expected the total number of complaints against RUC officers to be "higher than anticipated" at about 5,000, compared to 3,000 received last year.

She said she also expected that the number of complaints would rise in the summer season, at a time when civil unrest was more often a problem.

But stressing that her office was independent and impartial, the ombudsman said she realised that there were cases where allegations against officers proved to be false.

However, she said that where wrongdoing had occurred, she would act.

She said that the RUC as an organisation had offered her office full co-operation.

While she said that while police officers had in some cases expressed "surprise" that her office had the power to "relieve them of batons, uniforms or vehicles for evidence," she said she had not experienced significant resistance in her investigations.

"It is important that the public knows that this office has extensive powers," she added.

Mrs O'Loan has also revealed that she is conducting a review of police relations with defence solicitors in Northern Ireland and that she has taken a specific case over from the RUC.

She said she was very concerned about cases of "harassment and intimidation" of defence solicitors by the police in Northern Ireland.

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
NI Police Bill to become law
17 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
SDLP call over Policing Bill
08 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Fresh attempt to aid NI peace process
15 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
PM rejects RUC reform delay
13 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
Adams calls for sanctions review
15 Nov 00 | Northern Ireland
NI Police Bill to go to Commons
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