MLA vows to challenge paramilitary conviction figures

Brenda Hale said she was disappointed by the figures on convictions
Brenda Hale said she was disappointed by the figures on convictions

A DUP MLA has vowed to challenge the police over figures which appear to show a low level of convictions for membership of paramilitary organisations since 1998.

Brenda Hale was reacting to figures provided to her by Justice Minister David Ford in response to an Assembly question.

She had asked him to detail how many people have been convicted in the courts of paramilitary membership since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 until 2014.

Mr Ford replied that there had been 10, with his statistics showing that there had been no such convictions from 2009-14.

Mr Ford qualified his answer by saying that the data was collated on the ‘principal offence’ rule, meaning that only the most serious offence for which an offender is convicted was included in the figures.

The News Letter asked the Department of Justice (DoJ) why such a qualification was made in the figures, and also asked for clarity as to how many other such convictions there have been since 1998.

To date the DoJ has not responded.

Mrs Hale said that she was “disappointed” by the figures.

“Paramilitaries are a scourge on society,” she said.

“It’s time they left the stage for good. ‘A Fresh Start’ [the DUP-Sinn Fein deal struck last week] is the most comprehensive plan with not only strong language but also £200m in resources to tackle paramilitaries and organised crime. We want to put them out of business.

“I know what it is to have a family member serve in the front line and in a honourable army. Paramilitaries are not honourable. They are terrorists.

“They skulk under the cover of darkness, target innocent people and cower in the shadows with masked faces.

“It is disappointing that more convictions have not been secured given the number of illegal paramilitary displays. This is something which I will be challenging the police about. When displays are expected there must be proper evidence gathering in place to ensure convictions can be secured.”

Mrs Hale had choked back tears as she paid tribute to her husband when she was elected as an MLA in 2011.

Capt Hale, 42, from Bournemouth, Dorset, died in a roadside blast in Sangin, Helmand province, in August 2009.