Row over allocation of resources for Troubles legacy investigations

Director for Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland Barra McGrory. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Director for Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland Barra McGrory. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory has been challenged over his directions to the Chief Constable on how to allocate resources for Troubles legacy investigations.

UUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott made the comments after a series of public statements on the matter by senior police officers.

In February Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “There are some circumstances where the director of public prosecutions can direct me to effectively conduct an investigation...And it is actually in those cases that the majority of my legacy investigations branch officers are occupied at the moment.”

The PPS did not challenge his assertions at the time, when invited to comment.

Similarly, last week ACC Mark Hamilton said there are “specific cases that have been directly referred to us by the director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland [Barra McGrory] and as a result, these cases have been prioritised”.

Asked to address the issue again this week, as before, a PPS spokeswoman did not directly challenge the PSNI statements regarding the burden Mr McGrory is planing on the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB).

Instead she referred the News Letter to recent PSNI statements which she said show LIB is dealing with cases from a broad number of different legislative and accountability mechanisms.

“These include reviews such as the Saville Inquiry which resulted in the Bloody Sunday investigation, or lines of enquiry such as the Boston tapes which resulted in the investigation of a number of suspects, including Ivor Bell,” she said.

The PPS is similarly obliged to consider referrals, she said, which come from various sources including the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General and the Coroner.

These may result in requests to the Chief Constable for investigation under the DPP’s powers as set out under Section 35 (5) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.

Since November 2011, she said, Mr McGrory has requested the PSNI investigate eight Troubles legacy cases. Four of them relate to the Military Reaction Force (MRF), alleged destruction of evidence by security forces, Stakeknife and elderly English solider Dennis Hutchings, who was recently charged with murdering a civilian in 1974, she added.

Press statements from the PPS have used both the word “request” and “require” in relation to cases that have been forwarded to the PSNI for investigation.

On October 22, 2015 a PPS statement said that the DPP had “requested that the Chief Constable investigate a range of offences which relate to the activities of an individual who is commonly known under the codename ‘Stakeknife’”.

It then said: “Outlining his decision to require the Chief Constable to carry out the investigation ...”

Similarly, on January 14 2015, a PPS statement said that the DPP had “requested that the Chief Constable and the Police Ombudsman carry out full investigations into the actions of former RUC and Security Service personnel in relation to the withholding, concealment and destruction of surveillance evidence”. It then said: “Announcing his decision to require the Chief Constable to carry out an investigation ...”

Mr Elliott said of the use of the word require: “Clearly Barra McGrory is flexing his muscles when he uses those terms.”

The MP added: “It is quite obvious when he uses those terms that he is directing the Chief Constable.”

The MP said there was also a significant disparity between the Chief Constable George Hamilton and ACC Mark Hamilton saying that directions from the DPP are using up the majority of PSNI LIB resources and the comments from LIB Deputy Chief Jason Murphy, who told the News Letter this week that he did not necessarily accept that analysis of his unit’s workload.

Mr Murphy said that most LIB resources were taken up with investigations other than those referred by Mr McGrory, specifically; MRF, the Boston College Tapes, Kingsmills, Bloody Sunday and On-The-Run ‘comfort’ letters, as well as six Historical Enquiries Team cases.

However a fact sheet on LIB’s workload supplied by Mr Murphy made no attempt to specify any of the cases or the associated workload, Mr Elliott said.

“There is no doubt that the DPP is clearly directing the Chief Constable to carry out legacy investigations and that is eating up a lot of resources,” Mr Elliott said. “But why the DPP has chosen some cases for investigation and not others I don’t know, for example the many murders of police, UDR or innocent civilians by terrorists?” The MP has met Mr McGrory on several occasions about such issues.

“He certainly was not instilling me with confidence with regards to the cases that I was talking about getting further investigation,” he added.

A PPS spokesperson said: “We would refer you to recent PSNI statements which have made it clear that the Legacy Investigations Branch is dealing with cases which have been directed through a broader number of different legislative and accountability mechanisms than just that relating to the Public Prosecution Service. These include reviews such as the Saville Inquiry which resulted in the Bloody Sunday investigation, or lines of enquiry such as the Boston tapes which resulted in the investigation of a number of suspects, including Ivor Bell.

“The PPS is similarly obliged to consider referrals which come from various sources including the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General and the Coroner, which may result in the issuing of a 35 (5) request to the Chief Constable. Since November 2011 there have been 17 such requests for investigation and around half relate to historic cases.”