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22nd June 2022, 19:26

McGrail Inquiry - lawyers fire first salvos over reasons for Commissioner retirement in 'procedural' hearing

Former Commissioner Ian McGrail is of the view that he was put under improper pressure by the highest levels of Government to retire early.

However, it is the Government's view that Mr McGrail retired because he knew he had lost the confidence of the Chief Minister and the then Governor, who would have called for his resignation had he not retired.

These are the main lines of argument which are expected to emerge when the McGrail Inquiry holds its substantive session next March.

The Inquiry held its first of two preliminary sessions today at the Garrison Library.

The Inquiry's remit is to determine facts, and not is not meant to be an adversarial process.

Cross-examination of witnesses will therefore not be the modus operandi.

However, The Inquiry's Counsel, Julian Santos, suggested that any questions from legal representatives can be put to the witnesses through him if they are submitted beforehand in writing.

This preliminary hearing was meant to be a procedural one, dealing with such matters as legal funding, protocol, application procedures, the format of oral evidence and the preparation of bundles.

That said, the underlying tensions surrounding the case became apparent very quickly, once the counsel for the parties took centre stage.

Representing the former Commissioner, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC said Mr McGrail's version of events was that he was put under improper pressure by the highest levels of Government, and also put under pressure to retire early by the same individuals. She said he had remained silent for the last two years as to the reasons for his retirement, pending this Inquiry.

Ms Gallagher said people needed to feel comfortable in coming forward to give witness statements, and suggested a number of measures to protect their confidentiality, including screening, and redacted statements.

But representing the Government, the Chief Minister, the then Governor Nick Pyle, and the Attorney General, Sir Peter Caruana QC said his clients denied Mr McGrail was at any time put under improper or any pressure in the conduct of his job or the conduct of any criminal investigation. He said they believed Mr McGrail chose to retire because he knew that, having lost the confidence of the Governor and the Chief Minister, his position had become untenable and that, had he not retired, the Governor would have exercised his powers under the Police Act to call publicly for his resignation.

He said there was one allegation in particular referring to a nolle prosequi which is disputed and rejected by his clients, and should not enter the public domain at this stage.

Sir Peter said the Government had demonstrated its commitment to transparency by convening this Inquiry in the first place, and committing to publish the final report.

The substantive hearing itself will take place during three weeks in early 2023, possibly in March, with a second preliminary hearing this coming September.