Disciplinary sanctions have been recommended by the Police Ombudsman’s Office against two police officers involved in an investigation into the discovery of a gun and ammunition under the floorboards of a house in Co Tyrone.
The Ombudsman’s Office has formally concluded its investigation into the matter and, at the beginning of this week, communicated the findings to the family who lodged the complaint.
The complaint was submitted by family members of Charles and Teresa Fox, who were gunned down in their home near Moy by the Mid Ulster gang of the UVF in September 1992.
The Fox family raised concerns after police denied any guns or ammunition had been discovered at a house undergoing renovation in Tamnamore in June last year.
But following a number of enquiries from the media, the PSNI subsequently confirmed the gun had been “handed in to police on 21st June 2016 along with some assorted ammunition”.
A PSNI spokesperson said at that time the weapon was “in a very poor condition” and would be expedited for re-examination to establish if it could be linked to any historical incidents.
In their complaint to the Ombudsman, the Fox family said they were aware that a “leading loyalist” had lived close to Tamnamore and that the car used in their parents’ murder had been found burnt out close to the area.
The Police Ombudsman’s communication to the complainant, which has been seen by this newspaper, reveals that police initially became aware of the find on June 21 last year when two males attended the local police station to report that a gun and ammunition had been found at the property.
The items had been found inside a plastic bag by a workman carrying out building work at the house.
According to the report, which quoted an ‘Officer 1’, the gun was “heavily rusted” and the “chamber could not be opened”.
No statements were taken at the time, the report continues, and “after Man A and Man B left the station, everything was placed in a white sack which was sealed and placed in the armoury.”
Quoting Officer 1, manuals which were also handed in were “in very bad condition and they were therefore disposed of”.
Investigators from the Police Ombudsman’s Office challenged Officer 1 about the manner in which the incident had been recorded on the logging system which, they argued, “would have merely suggested that this was a case of ‘property found’ rather than an ‘arms find’.
“Officer 1 stated that basically the whole thing had fallen down due to the way in which the incident had been recorded. He stated that he was not aware of any murders back in the 1990s in the area and he had no thoughts of starting an investigation into this gun being linked to paramilitaries, as he was not aware of any links or suggestions of this. He was adamant that he did not try to hide weapons with possible links to paramilitaries.”
In respect of a second police officer, Officer 2, the report stated: “Officer 2 acknowledged that the matter would have been better escalated and the incident recorded on a Command and Control serial or to have included a report which would have flagged up the incident to more senior officers, at briefings the next day.”
The Police Ombudsman’s report concluded by stating that “appropriate disciplinary sanctions” had been recommended against the officers concerned.
The recommendations, the report stated, had since been acted upon by the PSNI.
With regard to “ongoing matters” relating to the gun found in Tamnamore, meanwhile, the Ombudsman told the complainant the PSNI’s Legacy Investigation Branch is currently dealing with those.
In a statement, the Fox family said: “25 years after the murder of our parents we are still dealing with at best police incompetence and at worst another cover up. We find it incredulous that any serving police officer would not be aware of sectarian murders in the mid Ulster area in the 1990s.”
The family have called for a criminal investigation into the handling of the evidence.
Mike Ritchie from Relatives for Justice commented: “We are told that the Legacy Investigation Branch is taking this matter forward. Yet when making the complaint we asked for forensic detail on the weapon.
“A year later, we have no information as to whether it was indeed used in loyalist murders or not. This is both disappointing and inexplicable. During the conflict, information about weapons and what previous incidents they may have been used in was released within days.”
According to the Police, “appropriate ballistics testing” was carried out on the weapon in question. However, the PSNI says it does not routinely disclose the results of such testing.
“The recommendations made in the Police Ombudsman’s report have been actioned by PSNI,” a Police spokesperson said.