The PSNI has not challenged assertions by a leading victims’ coalition that criminal investigations by its Legacy Investigations Branch overwhelmingly focus on issues that suit a republican agenda.
However, police said that it is obliged to prioritise its investigations according to external legal demands such as those made by the director of public prosecutions.
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United challenged the PSNI after ACC Mark Hamilton told the BBC that unless the proposed Historical Investigations Unit is formed, the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch’s (LIB) 70 staff will eventually review all 3,200 Troubles-related deaths.
“But none of those cases are actually closed as such, they always remain open,” he told the BBC. “So at some point way in the future we would come to them again or if there is more evidence for any of those cases, that came forward, then we would reopen those cases.”
But Ken Funston, advocacy manager with South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), said Mr Hamilton had been talking “pure nonsense”. He says the PSNI “will not look at” the Enniskillen bomb atrocity, a view echoed by Fermanagh MP Tom Elliott on Tuesday.
“So what Mr Hamilton is saying is disingenuous in the extreme,” Mr Funston said. “I have presented a number of cases to them and they have refused to look at them and simply respond with a generic letter.”
He added that police are “only looking at cases of alleged criminality by the state”.
Mr Donaldson believes the PSNI has been disingenuous in recent days in saying it will review all Troubles-related murders. The claims by police, he said, were made after national headlines which highlighted the fact that LIB is reinvestigating 1,000 soldiers in relation to some 300 killings during the Troubles. The PSNI acknowledged that this story was true but said the decision was actually made three years ago, so it is not news.
Mr Donaldson asked: “Outside of investigating the British security forces what has LIB done to date? It appears that all its criminal investigations so far suit a republican agenda – unless they can show us otherwise?”
The PSNI replied that it is legally required to complete investigative actions which have been directed through various legislative and accountability mechanisms – the Bloody Sunday investigation, the Military Reaction Force investigation, investigations emanating from the Boston College tapes and the On-The-Runs review. With finite resources available, police must ensure those legal obligations are fulfilled first and foremost, the PSNI advised.
ACC Mark Hamilton said there are “specific cases that have been directly referred to us by the director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland [Barra McGrory] and as a result, these cases have been prioritised”.
He confirmed the PSNI is investigating soldiers from Bloody Sunday and also the background of the On-The-Run letters.
The cases of 1,000 ex-soldiers being investigated from the Troubles are being reviewed using a case sequencing model which does not prioritise military cases, he added.
In the wake of Mr Hamilton’s comments, victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer echoed concerns from other victims that the “hold up” in legacy investigations has been “choreographed by a relentless republican campaign to rewrite history”.
Mr Frazer said the majority of state killings were “legitimate actions” whilst terrorists who killed innocent people “gave up any right to seek justice and certainly any right to be at the top of the pile [for LIB investigations]”.
He added that it is “an insult to victims and his force” that Mr Hamilton said investigating ex-soldiers for 300 Troubles-related killings was placing a substantial strain on police resources and should be passed to the proposed HIU.
The campaigner contrasted the On-The-Run letters given to hundreds of IRA members while 1,000 ex-soldiers are now “being hounded”.