Legacy unit imbalance ‘is clear for all to see’

Former PSNI Detective Superintendent Alan Mains
Former PSNI Detective Superintendent Alan Mains

A new legacy inquest unit being set up to deal with Troubles-related killings “cannot deliver a fair and balanced approach”, a former senior police officer has said.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) plans to spend an estimated £55m over the next six years to deal with a backlog of outstanding inquests, covering 93 deaths, by setting up a new unit to handle them.

However, the move has been criticised for its focus on cases where the security forces are implicated.

According to a News Letter investigation carried out in 2017, when there were 94 deaths in the inquest queue, 51 of the dead were known or thought to have been killed by security forces, 25 by loyalists, and just 17 by republicans.

Many of the 94 dead, around 40, were terrorists.

Retired PSNI Detective Superintendent Alan Mains said the imbalance was “clear for all to see”.

“These structures do justice to no one. It is the victims and their families who are the losers in all of this,” he said.

Mr Mains also said the timing of the funding announcement was “slightly bizarre”, given that the UK government is sifting through 17,000-plus responses to its consultation on dealing with the past, which closed last October.

The new unit will be set up within the Coroners Service, under the remit of the Lord Chief Justice. However, while a number of specialist staff are to be recruited for the dedicated team, the Office of the Lord Chief Justice (OLCJ) has said it does not intend to appoint any additional coroners.

Meanwhile, South Armagh victims campaigner William Frazer called on the DoJ to explain how exactly the £55m was being spent.

The News Letter posed this question to the department, but they simply pointed us to their press statement released on Thursday, which said: “The unit will be supported by increased capacity in PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service and other justice agencies”.

Other questions put to both the DoJ and OLCJ by the News Letter have also gone unanswered, including:

Has the Irish government been consulted on this new legacy unit?

Why is the PPS going to be involved in inquest matters?

l Ben Lowry, page 11