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Last Updated: Monday, 2 August, 2004, 08:19 GMT 09:19 UK
Stormont raid 'not political'
Sinn Fein offices in Stormont were searched in October 2002

A police raid at a Sinn Fein office at Stormont almost two years ago was not politically motivated, the Police Ombudsman has said.

Nuala O'Loan said there was no evidence to suggest the raid, in October 2002, was designed to damage the party and the Northern Ireland political process.

It was part of a series of searches in Belfast linked to allegations of republican intelligence gathering inside the Northern Ireland Office at Castle Buildings, Stormont.

The allegations prompted a crisis in the political process and the power-sharing institutions at Stormont were suspended later that month.

After the search of the Sinn Fein office, the ombudsman received six complaints.

There were allegations that the raid was politically motivated and that the media had been tipped off about an imminent search at Stormont.

'No proper consideration'

But in a statement on Monday, the ombudsman said she had found no evidence to substantiate such claims.

"On the basis of the intelligence available, I can say that the detective chief superintendent's decision to seek a warrant authorising a search of a specific desk in the Sinn Fein offices was reasonable, proportionate and legal," she added.

"We have not uncovered any evidence that the police decision-making was influenced inappropriately by any other officers within the PSNI, by politicians or by any other parties."

Nuala O'Loan
Mrs O'Loan said there was no evidence the raid was politically motivated
However, she said there was "no proper consideration" given by police to the fact that they were searching the buildings of a legislative assembly.

"This was a significant failing by police," she said.

Mrs O'Loan also criticised the scale and manner of the search.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said his party disagreed with the ombudsman's findings.

"I think to say that there is no evidence that it (the raid) was politically motivated is different from actually that being the case," Mr Murphy said.

"I think if you examine the context and the conduct of the raid on our offices in Stormont, I don't think you could come to any other conclusion."

The DUP's Ian Paisley jnr welcomed the report and said the Ulster Unionist Party should never have partnered Sinn Fein in government.

"Whenever you hear Sir Reg Empey tell the BBC this morning: 'We were not looking for an excuse to leave the Executive,' it becomes apparent that, were it not for the actions of the DUP in the aftermath of the police raids, then the UUP might still have been in government with Sinn Fein," he said.

Ulster Unionist Sir Reg Empey said the key issue was not the raid but the alleged gathering of intelligence.

"Basically I accept the report," he said.

"But I want to first of all take issue with Conor Murphy when he says that we were looking for an excuse.

Reg Empey
Sir Reg Empey denied unionists were 'looking for an excuse'
"We were not looking for an excuse to leave the Executive, what we were looking for was the completion of the disarmament process that was promised."

The SDLP's policing spokesman Alex Attwood said the report confirmed what his party had claimed, that police action was heavy handed.

"It is interesting that the Ulster Unionists, through Sir Reg Empey, have accepted the report, thereby accepting that the PSNI were heavy-handed," he said.

"It comes as no surprise however, that Sinn Fein have not accepted the report of the Police Ombudsman's comments about what motivated the police investigation."

Apology welcomed

The ombudsman's office interviewed 35 people as part of their investigation, including police officers, staff at the Northern Ireland Assembly and members of Sinn Fein.

They also examined PSNI intelligence files.

At the time, Northern Ireland Chief Constable Hugh Orde apologised for the "style" of the search.

He said: "I've looked at the film, and I think we could have done the raid itself in a more sensitive and appropriate style."

Mrs O'Loan said she welcomed the chief constable's statement, adding: "He was right to do so."




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Brian Rowan:
"After the search of the Sinn Fein office, the ombudsman received six complaints"


BBC NI's security editor Brian Rowan reports:
"After the search the ombudsman received six complaints"



SEE ALSO:
Adams rejects IRA spying allegations
08 Nov 02  |  Northern Ireland
DUP to pull out of executive
07 Oct 02  |  Northern Ireland
Assembly suspended over 'loss of trust'
14 Oct 02  |  Northern Ireland
NI executive 'to be suspended'
10 Oct 02  |  Northern Ireland


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