By Jamie Bryson
As the election count was underway, a controversial decision was conveniently slipped into the media grid- the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has recommended that Marie Anderson be appointed as the next Police Ombudsman.
Ms Anderson is the current Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards, the Judicial Appointments Ombudsman and Public Services Ombudsman. Her tenure in at least two of the three aforementioned posts has been, to say the least, controversial.
This site has been writing consistently for the past 7 months raising concerns about Marie Anderson’s role in her current posts due to questionable decision making. The BBC Nolan Show’s David Thompson has been equally dogged, pursuing public interest stories for almost 2 years around some of Ms Anderson’s actions. Besides this author and David Thompson, no other journalist or elected politician has- in any way- raised their head to investigate concerns or challenge decisions. That is a point that should be noted, because despite the apparent silence thus far, when the full controversial nature of the appointment becomes apparent, you can rest assured- in similar vein to the Roma exploitation scandal- the bandwagon and local airwaves will be full of journalists and politicians wanting to make capital out of challenging the appointment on the back of concerns that some people have been screaming from the rooftops long ago.
In August 2018 the Nolan Show revealed that Ms Anderson had threatened a citizen with “contempt of court” for publishing details of a report into the Northern Ireland Charity Commission.
Legal experts reacted with astonishment at the threat with Joshua Rozenberg telling the BBC “She [the ombudsman] says that Gregory Burke is at risk of being punished. I’m not at all sure that that’s completely accurate, it’s not at all clear that it [the enabling statute] provides penalties of the sort she’s talking about.”
These threats of contempt lead the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, to write to Ms Anderson saying;
“That the ombudsman herself considers the report to be confidential until she decides to publish it is irrelevant…. because the ombudsman has no power to make an order restricting publication she ought not to threaten citizens with contempt proceedings when there is no apparent basis for subjecting their proposed actions to such a sanction”
Ms Anderson had publicly committed herself to “ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are served by a fair and efficient public administration that is committed to accountability, openness and quality of service”.
The Nolan Show asked the ombudsman what the purpose of her office was if reports were to be kept secret.
In a statement, her office said “it is for the ombudsman to decide if it is in the public interest” to publish a report. You can read the full story from the BBC HERE
Marie Anderson found herself back in the headlines again in February of this year. Despite already being warned by the Attorney General she had no power to do so, Ms Anderson threatened the author of this article with ‘contempt of the high court’ in relation to a case brought against then Independent Councillor Ruth Patterson. This dispute was covered extensively on Unionist Voice- to date, despite being urged by this author to do so, Ms Anderson has not followed through on her contempt threat and referred any matters to the High Court.
This was not the only legally questionable drama Ms Anderson was involved in this year. It transpired- again thanks to the diligent journalism of the Nolan Show’s David Thompson- that the Ombudsman had threatened a complainant with the ‘Official Secrets Act’ and potential imprisonment, despite there being no legal basis whatsoever for such a threat.
This story can be read HERE
It is understood that the Ombudsman has previously had an assistant that walked into the room in advance of her and instructed those present to “all stand for the Ombudsman”. This site has consistently described Ms Anderson as being “out of control” and “behaving like a High Court Judge despite having no such status”.
The appointment, sneaked into the media grid under the cover of an election, is one that should raise concerns for all citizens. The Ombudsman has been aggressive to the point of far exceeding her powers in menacing the public in her previous roles, and to insert such a person into a role as crucial and as sensitive as the Police Ombudsman is a grave error of judgement in the minds of many people.
Unionists had concerns over impartiality whilst Ms Anderson was the Local Government Commissioner, but despite this elected representatives- some of whom have privately spoken to me previously and expressed outrage at the actions of Ms Anderson- have stayed quiet.
This mirrored the appointment of Barra McGrory QC as Director of the PPS. Despite wide ranging concerns over Mr McGrory’s appointment to this role, it was only after intense and repeated lobbying by grassroots unionists that elected representatives spoke out- and even then they were years too late and their comments were timid at best.
The appointment of Marie Anderson as Police Ombudsman is going to open the floodgates for an assault on former members of the RUC in terms of legacy, and if former police officers had concerns as to Dr Maguire pushing the boundaries of his statutory powers then surely they must see the danger in appointing a person who as a mere Public Services Ombudsman tried to threatened ordinary citizens with the Official Secrets Act.
I imagine that some nationalists will also object to the appointment for various reasons. I am not sure of the strategic thought behind this because from a nationalist point of view, regardless of any potentially questionable nature of the appointment process, Marie Anderson is surely seen as a good appointment.
This story has legs and the concerns are in the public domain. If unionists and former members of the RUC do not raise their voices now then it is pointless crying over the appointment when it all goes wrong months and years down the line. No one can argue that they were not warned.