The PSNI has taken 16 months to close a Freedom of Information request, in the end refusing to update its figures on the ratio of loyalists to republicans arrested as part of Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigations.
Despite persistent reminders from the News Letter during that period and an internal review in which the PSNI’s own legal department advised that the updated figures should be released, the PSNI this week issued a refusal notice, citing prohibitive costs.
The PSNI originally released loyalist/republican arrest figures in a Freedom of Information (FoI) answer in 2010, showing there had been “71 arrests to date; all but one are loyalists”.
In September 2012 the News Letter asked for updated figures but the PSNI said it no longer collates them, so they could not be released.
The News Letter appealed, but as this had not been answered four months later, this paper asked the Information Commissioner (ICO) to intervene. It gave the PSNI a further 20 working days to respond.
The next month an internal review of the case by a PSNI legal advisor concluded the statistics “have not been held/continued” by Crime Operations Department, which had assumed responsibility for HET cases requiring arrests since April 2010.
However, the PSNI reviewer also said that “in the spirit of the [Freedom of Information] Act” the figures should have been given to the News Letter. “Again I have asked that this be done,” he added.
Despite repeated requests, the PSNI did not respond to this direction for a further nine months; this week it said that disclosing the arrest figures would exceed cost limits set by the Secretary of State at £450, because it would require contacting senior investigative officers, detectives and staff and a check of files, taking longer than the allowed 18 hours.
A PSNI spokesman said it recognises its responsibility to respond to FoI requests and internal reviews in a reasonable time “and we apologise for the delay in this instance”. He added that the PSNI are “seeking to learn from this particular case and are examining current internal review procedures”.
Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson responded that 60% of Troubles murders were by republicans and 30% by loyalists.
In 2011 the PUP protested outside PSNI headquarters, claiming HET was unfairly targeting loyalists. The then UUP Policing Board member Basil McCrea said he had repeatedly warned “that if we do not deal with this perceived imbalance then there is the potential for problems in the months and years to come”. A peace process that does not recognise the IRA committed most murders “is in danger of causing considerable unrest”, he added. The HET chief Dave Cox said: “The imbalance is because we were investigating Operation Ballast [Mount Vernon UVF] out of sequence, as referred to us by the Police Ombudsman.”
NI suffering from ‘justice deficit’
Responding to the PSNI refusal to release arrest figures of loyalists and republicans for Troubles offences, a victims’ coalition said there is a “justice deficit” in Northern Ireland.
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United (IVU) said yesterday that his umbrella group made it clear in its submission to the Haass process that there exists “a justice deficit in how cases concerning murders by terrorists have been dealt with.
“Let us never forget that over 90 per cent of those murdered in the Troubles were as a result of republican and loyalist terrorism; 60 per cent were committed by republicans and 30 per cent by loyalists. In 1972 a decision was taken not to prosecute a priest believed to have been involved in the Claudy bomb and in 2014 little as changed.”
He said there are “many cases which have the fingerprints of those who are now senior republicans”.
“No-one should be above or beyond the reaches of the law. The criminal justice system must be enabled to finally deliver for the innocent victims and survivors of terrorism.
“IVU accepts that someone can make a contribution to society post their involvement in terrorism but that this can only have legitimacy when they have demonstrated a willingness to acknowledge the human suffering they caused via the crimes they committed, that they serve a sentence for the crime(s) ensuring justice is done. Since that process they must then find a way to reconcile within themselves what they did and make every possible effort to contribute towards a sustainable peace where they actively dissuade others from engaging in unjustifiable violence.”