A special unit set up to probe unsolved murders in Northern Ireland is inconsistent, has serious shortcomings and risks losing the confidence of victims’ families, a report claimed today.
Investigations by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) into killings involving British soldiers should also have been more rigorous, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
They were treated differently as a matter of policy, apparently based on a misrepresentation of the law, the report said.
It added: “This is entirely wrong, and has led to State involvement cases being reviewed with less rigour in some areas than non-State cases.”
The HET was set up in September 2005 to investigate more than 3,200 unsolved murders between 1968 when violence first erupted on the streets of Belfast and Londonderry, and 1998, the year of the Good Friday peace agreement which lead to the formation of the powersharing executive at Stormont.
The aim of the unit, which consists mostly of retired police officers from forces across the UK, including the old Royal Ulster Constabulary, was to bring closure to many bereaved families who still had unanswered questions about the death or disappearance of their loved ones.
But after the HMIC was called in last year by the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to carry out a major review focusing on killings involving troops between 1970 and 1973, it seems the work of the unit fell well short of what it was meant to achieve,
A statement said: “Inconsistencies and shortcomings in policies, systems and practices threaten the legitimacy of the Historical Enquiries Team’s work, and risk undermining the confidence of the families of those who died during ‘the troubles’ in its effectiveness and impartiality.”
In Belfast this afternoon, Stephen Otter who headed up the HMIC review said he was shocked at the systemic nature of the failures. He added: “It is just not defensible. I think it is really sad that we have had to be brought in to do this when much of it was pointed out in 2009”
This was a reference to the University of Ulster academic Dr Patrica Lundy who raised concerns about interviews with soldiers, which she claimed were not impartial or effective.