Ex-PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde: The Historical Enquiries Team was closed down to protect terrorists-turned-politicians

Ex-Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde says the Historical Enquiries Team was closed down because it was about to start investigating serving politicians from both sides involved in terrorism.

By Philip Bradfield
Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 4:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 11:17 pm

Sir Hugh, PSNI Chief constable from 2002 to 2009, was speaking on the BBC documentary released this week, PSNI – 20 Years On The Frontline. He set up a special PSNI division, the Historical Enquiries Unit (HET) in 2005 to investigate over 3000 troubles deaths.

In 2010 the PSNI revealed, under Freedom of Information, that the HET had carried out 71 arrests - all but one of them having been loyalists; This was despite the fact that the republicans killed a much larger number of people. In 2014 the PSNI refused to update the figures saying it no longer collated them. The PUP held public protests and asked why no republicans were being arrested.

In 2013 a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said HET investigated cases involving the state with “less rigour” than others. The next year the PSNI said that budget cuts meant it had to close.

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Ex-Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said he would have binned the critical report on the unit. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.

In this week’s documentary Mr Orde said he would have binned the HMIC report.

“Had I been the chief when that [HMIC] report was received I’d have called a press conference... and I’d have thrown the report in the bin on public television and said, ‘That’s all very interesting but I’m going to keep going because I think the families of victims are far more important’.

“It was the only original idea I had in policing. I was hugely disappointed and angry when it was closed down for the reasons it was closed down.”

Asked why it was closed down, he replied: “It was never going to be perfect, in fact a politician who shall remain nameless, when I set it up, said, ‘You know, this will run as long as it suits the politicians and when it doesn’t they will close you down’.”

Stephen Nolan put it to him that he meant that “one of the reasons it was closed down was to protect people in senior positions of power”.

Mr Orde replied: “It is very hard to know and this is speculation on my part... we were getting to more recent cases and therefore awkward questions might come in the direction of people on both sides - this was not one side or the other - that might cause embarrassment.”

He said serving politicians would have come under scrutiny.

“It is a fairly obvious notion that the more recent cases would have been committed or the murderers or those involved in these crimes would have been younger people from both sides who would have made the transition for all the right reasons from one side - from the freedom fighter role - to the roles of democratically elected individuals for example.” 

Kenny Donaldson, Spokesman for Innocent Victims United said Sir Hugh Orde’s comments chime with previous information he obtained from a former senior HET investigator.

“We were advised that the senior HET Investigator had sought to interview Martin McGuinness over the Enniskillen Poppy Day Bomb massacre but that he was told that this couldn’t happen, that the NIO said ‘this would not be a good idea’,” he said.

“Previously we provided this information through spoken evidence given to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select committee. It is a statement of fact that many current and former elected representatives were engaged in terrorism and were involved in a wide range of crimes including murder. Sir High Orde has essentially confirmed that political considerations and the appeasement of certain individuals happened, that they were afforded protection.

“There is a need for accountability of all of these issues. ictims and survivors must cease to be the collateral damage of squalid and covert political deals which have usurped the criminal justice system”.

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