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Information watchdog 'sitting on' MI5 report about Troubles

THE Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been criticised for “inexcusable” delays in deciding whether an MI5 report about the Troubles can finally be made public.

The watchdog was asked 16 months ago to review whether the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was legally entitled to withhold a historic report relating to undercover tactics used against the IRA.

The commissioner has still not reached a decision, angering academics, who say freedom-of-information laws should let them see the document, which is now almost half a century old.

The dossier in question was drawn up in 1973 by an MI5 expert on counterinsurgency, John Percival Morton, a veteran of colonial wars who held racist views. It advised the Royal Ulster Constabulary to restructure its special branch, which would become notorious for colluding with loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

A year after Morton wrote his report, the UVF killed 33 people and an unborn child with a series of car-bomb blasts across Dublin and Monaghan in the deadliest attack of the Troubles. In 2003 an inquiry by former Irish Supreme Court judge Henry Barron concluded: “A number of those suspected for the bombings were reliably said to have had relationships with British intelligence and/or RUC special branch officers.”

This week victims of the atrocity suffered a setback at the High Court in Belfast, where a judge reneged on an order demanding that British authorities release all their documents relating to the bombing campaign.

In a separate process, the ICO is now under fire for sitting on a complaint about police keeping the Morton Report under wraps.

Dr Rachel Seoighe, a criminologist at Kent University, told the Morning Star: “The delay on the part of the ICO is inexcusable.

“We expected denials, obfuscations and silences from the PSNI, but the ICO should be accountable to the public and offer an essential avenue of redress.”

Her criticism was echoed by Dr Kevin Hearty, a legal scholar at Queens University Belfast, who said the delays were now “reaching the point of absolute farce.”

He asked: “What on earth is in the Morton report that could still prejudice national security all these decades later?”

Mr Morton later visited Sri Lanka to advise its special branch and commandos on crushing the country’s Tamil rebels. The Foreign Office has destroyed files about his trips to Sri Lanka and MI5 refuses to release its copies.

An ICO spokesperson said: “We apologise for the delay in this case.”

“We aim to resolve 90 per cent of cases within six months. Sometimes it can take longer because of the nature of the case, and we always try and explain why it is taking longer and when we expect a case to be resolved.”

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