PSNI boss hits out over inquests

Chief Constable George Hamilton
Chief Constable George Hamilton

The system for serving coroners investigating historical deaths in Northern Ireland is “chaotic” and needs a broad review, the Chief Constable told the Policing Board on Thursday.

Almost 100 legacy deaths, many dating back decades, are being re-visited.

PSNI chief George Hamilton said his primary concern lay with bereaved families waiting so long.

The Board has called for an inspection of the police’s handling of inquests, carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, but Justice Minister David Ford has not agreed to order one.

A total of 56 inquests into 94 deaths have yet to be heard.

Thousands of files have to be cleared by police for public airing, and sensitive ones often have to be partly redacted by the Northern Ireland Secretary for security reasons.

The chief constable said: “I feel a certain frustration myself about how log-jammed the system is. The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, [has] said that the coronial system was inadequate and indeed needed overhaul, I absolutely agree with him on that.”

He said the police have often become the focus of attention around delays to cases, but said some of the timescales imposed on cases were arbitrary, without considering what deadlines entailed.