Relatives for Justice has slammed the Office of the Police Ombudsman for sending "impersonal" letters informing families that investigations into their Troubles-era complaints will not proceed.
While Relatives for Justice said it received 26 letters, UTV reports that some 200 letters were sent in total.
According to UTV, the letters have been sent to families who submitted complaints to the Ombudsman's office about how the RUC handled investigations into the killings of their loved ones during the Troubles.
The letters inform families that there is no longer any prospect of their complaints, many of which date back years and allege collusion, being investigated before the cut-off point.
The letters were sent in the wake of the passage of the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill, which Relatives for Justice, among other groups and politicians, has vocally opposed since its introduction. The new legislation ends new Troubles-era cases and inquests and offers conditional amnesty to those accused of killings.
Relatives for Justice said in a statement on Wednesday, November 15: "Yesterday afternoon the Office of the Police Ombudsman delivered 26 letters to our offices which were addressed to 26 families whom Relatives for Justice supports, with a c/o Relatives for Justice address.
"Apart from the opening line of address, each letter said exactly the same thing – that due to the Legacy Act, the Police Ombudsman is not in a 'position to investigate' their complaints.
"The letters are impersonal, not as much as mentioning the name of the person killed during the conflict, and acknowledge that families may view this as an 'unwelcome' development.
"Some of the families who have received these letters made complaints to the Ombudsman’s office many, many, years ago.
"This morning our offices are contacting the families involved to deliver this devastating news to bereaved parents, children, spouses, and siblings. We need to visit some very elderly relatives who will not be in a position to receive phonecalls due to their infirmity."
Relatives for Justice Chairperson Professor Emeritus Bill Rolston said on Wednesday morning: “I can hardly describe the impact of these letters to families.
"While a totally inappropriate process of decision making and information sharing by the Police Ombudsman, this is the devastating outworking of the British Government’s shameful Legacy Act.
“Further it is a legislative horror that is undermining the criminal justice architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.
“But most of all this development will have long-term implications with another trauma heaped upon already traumatized families.
“The pretence that this is in any way a victim-centred process is exposed, but that is no comfort to families who are once again being let down by the state.”
Andree Murphy, the director of Relatives for Justice, further told UTV on Wednesday: "I think it's really insulting to families not even to mention the name of their loved ones, not even to acknowledge their hurt and pain."
Murphy said Relatives for Justice wasn't told that the letters were being delivered to their offices.
"The fact that they would be so casual around such a life-changing development is just so disappointing," Murphy added.
When asked for comment regarding the matter on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Ombudsman told IrishCentral: “The Police Ombudsman recognises that families will have been disheartened and frustrated with receipt of this news, and regrets that some have been disappointed on receipt of this communication.
“In April of this year, many families were advised that the Office would be unable to investigate their complaints prior to April 2024. A commitment was made to communicate further when the then-proposed legacy legislation was progressed.
“Following the enactment of this legislation, it was important to advise these families of the impact of this legislation on their complaints.
“The Police Ombudsman is continuing to dedicate her limited historical investigations resources to ensuring that those legacy cases that can be completed and reported on are brought to a conclusion before 1st May 2024.”
Later on Wednesday, Relatives for Justice said it will be staging a protest at the Belfast High Court on November 21:
Belfast High Court 1pm Tuesday 21st November pic.twitter.com/zxyWW9ywwV— Relatives 4 Justice #NeverGivingUp (@RelsForJustice) November 15, 2023