TERRORISTS who confessed their membership of illegal organisations and their crimes to Boston College researchers may have unwittingly led to the solving of their own crimes.
The man who headed the investigation into the Omagh Bomb, former detective chief superintendent Norman Baxter, said that any confessions on the Boston College tapes would be admissible in court if the PSNI can win a court battle to gain custody of several recordings.
The PSNI is known to have requested several tapes, including those relating to the abduction and murder of west Belfast mother Jean McConville.
But Mr Baxter told the News Letter that the police and the Government had a duty to press for every recording to be handed over if they are serious about solving Troubles atrocities.
And the senior officer, who retired in 2008, said that politicians should be pressing the police to get the whole archive and see whether they can re-investigate scores of Troubles murders.
In a searing article for the News Letter in 2010 in which he compared some IRA crimes to some of those by Nazi units, Mr Baxter called on the chief constable to urgently appoint a senior detective to conduct a proper investigation into the murder of Mrs McConville.
Speaking last night, he said: “Access to the Boston papers is absolutely vital in the process to establish the truth concerning the murders of so many victims in the Northern Ireland Troubles.
“The PSNI are to be commended for commencing the legal process to gain access to this material.
“Justice for the victims demands that every possible action is taken by the authorities to collect information and intelligence on the criminals who perpetrated some of the worst crimes known to humanity.
“The Boston interviews would provide the reasonable grounds to arrest these terrorists for the crimes they have confessed to on tape; and indeed, subject to the rules of evidence, could form the basis of criminal charges against those who have confessed.
“The Boston project should therefore lead to the arrest and potential charging of scores of terrorists and help bring closure to the families of the victims of loyalist and republican terror.
“Politicians should encourage the PSNI to seek possession of all the recordings and statements to help seek justice and truth for the families of the victims.”
Mr Baxter also called on those who had collected the confessions to cooperate fully with the police in solving murders.
He added: “Justice is for all and the law should be applied to everyone including journalists, academics and researchers.
“Everyone who is aware that an arrestable offence has been committed and has information on that crime has a legal obligation to pass this information expeditiously to the police.”
Journalists Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, two of those involved in the project, have said that they will not cooperate with any criminal investigation emerging from the tapes.
On Wednesday the News Letter reported their fears that the PSNI’s success in the court action – which to their fury Boston College has declined to appeal – will now stop any paramilitary from telling the truth of what happened during the Troubles.
Both men have now initiated their own legal action in an attempt to keep the tapes secret and a hearing at the end of this month is expected to decide the case.
Mr McIntyre, a former IRA man who is now a trenchant critic of Sinn Fein, conducted the republican interviews.
He said: “No one would have been interested in giving frank interviews unless there were stringent guarantees and I would never have been involved without those guarantees.”
Mr McIntyre said that the relationship between those who conducted the interviews and Boston College had now broken down and accused the Jesuit-founded university of “putting the institution ahead of the interviewees”.
He and Mr Moloney have now called for the destruction of the archive – something which would destroy what may be some of the most historically significant artefacts relating to the Troubles.
Mr Moloney has suggested that the British Government is not keen to win the court battle and would like it to “go away”.
And he called for an amnesty for past terrorists – something which unionists have made clear they would oppose – in an attempt to help people talk openly about what happened in past decades.
The New York-based journalist and author said: “It is one thing pursuing people who are continuing to oppose the process but there is a distinction between them and those who said they were ending this with a compromise that a lot of their people didn’t like but they were going to do it and the assumption – and practice – was until recently that there would be no retribution.
“But that’s not happening, according to this.
“If this goes forward, anyone in the PSNI who is capable of reading a book or a newspaper is going to realise that this will involve in some way the leadership of organisations like the Provisionals who were the architects of the peace process.”
Last week, the family of Mrs McConville made clear that they want to see the police do all within their power – including accessing the tapes – to bring her killers to justice.