New PSNI chief Hamilton agrees with Baggott: Take Troubles cases from PSNI

PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton pictured in his office in Belfast. Picture: Arthur Allison
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton pictured in his office in Belfast. Picture: Arthur Allison

The new PSNI chief constable has supported his predecessor’s view that the police should not be investigating Troubles murders – but made clear that they will continue such investigations until they are told otherwise.

In an interview with the News Letter, George Hamilton indicated that he broadly supported the view of Matt Baggott that a separate authority should be set up to investigate pre-1998 murders.

On his final day in office last month, Mr Baggott said: “I think ... the PSNI should no longer be accountable for dealing with issues that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement.”

When asked if he shared Mr Baggott’s views, Mr Hamilton said: “I think we need a solution to policing the past so I share that with Matt.

“I would exercise some caution, though [because] the past is actually the present for those who are affected by it so the pain and the hurt and the anguish is still there for those who have lost loved ones and who have many unanswered questions. And that’s regardless of how or what or where or what circumstances they lost their loved one in.

“I think there’s a much preferable way of doing it; I think it might look and feel something like what Dr Haass suggested – although I realise there were other interdependencies that we couldn’t get political consensus on – but something like that seems to be the way to go.”

Mr Hamilton said that he did not think the Haass proposals were “particularly innovative” as they were similar to the Eames-Bradley proposals and the original Historical Enquiries Team.

“I don’t see anything that’s pointing towards political consensus in the devolved administration on that. We need to find another way of plotting out what we need to do on that and [it] will inevitably be some mechanism that is at least arm’s length removed from the PSNI.

“In the meantime ... we will do our best to fulfil our legal responsibilities to deal with the past.”

He said that would include, where possible, putting evidence to prosecutors “so that people can be brought to justice”.

He added: “Whilst I have a similar desire to, I think, lots of people in society, including the former chief constable, at a personal level – it’s just my own values – I want to overlay that by making it clear that I don’t want investigations into the loss of people’s loved ones to feel like some sort of embuggerance or second division policing.

“It’s a priority for them; so therefore it’s important to me.”

• A mobile steel wall used last week to separate an Orange parade from residents of the Short Strand could be used at other parade flashpoints, the chief constable said, in his interview with the News Letter.

George Hamilton said that he thought the eight-feet high portable peace wall device, which was first used at the G8, could be useful in policing some contentious parades.

“We need to be careful to deploy it appropriately,” he said.

“We don’t need community permission to deploy it but certainly the success of the use of it in Short Strand/lower Newtownards Road was done with the agreement and concurrence of both communities.”

He admitted that at a time when there are moves to eradicate peace walls it may seem like “going back in time”, but said that if it was done to keep people safe and had community support the barrier would be “a sensible thing to do”.

“It will be used but it’s not a case of every parade at an interface is going to have this now – it will be a case by case basis and it will be done, where possible ... in very close consultation with parade organisers or protest organisers.”