The chief constable has been challenged to say whether a ‘container load’ of Troubles-related weapons held by the authorities in 2006 has been fully examined for forensic evidence with a view to bringing prosecutions.
UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie was speaking after Chief Constable George Hamilton said that the decision to allow paramilitaries to decommission weapons without forensic tests in 2001 meant police have “one hand tied behind our backs” when it comes to investigating the past.
However, the PSNI was yesterday unable to put his comments into context by giving any clarity on what they have done with “a container load” of terror weapons from the Troubles, which they seized separately from decommissioning and which the News Letter revealed the existence of in 2006. It is not known what has happened to the weapons since.
Mr Hamilton told the BBC on Thursday he did not criticise the decision to allow terrorist weapon decommissioning in 2001, but said it removed a “major line of inquiry” for detectives.
As a result, he said only about 4% of investigations into 1,700 unsolved Troubles murders are likely to result in convictions.
In 2006 the News Letter reported the Forensic Service of NI (FSNI) held “a container load” of Troubles weapons – and that it was confident of being able to exploit them forensically for prosecutions. Senior FSNI officials made the boasts to the Duke of York at their headquarters in March 2006.
However, the News Letter has since been unable to secure evidence of whether the PSNI or Historical Enquiries Team (HET) had made any effort to cross-reference the weapons to ongoing HET legacy cases or test them for DNA.
UUP MLA Mr Beattie said: “Given that decommissioning was deemed to be completed in September 2005, the news that the FSNI had ‘a container load of weapons’ in 2006 is extremely interesting.
“Undoubtedly these weapons – obtained separately to the decommissioning process – could and should have been subjected to all manner of forensic and ballistics tests to see if they could be linked to shootings and individual terrorists.
“One would certainly have expected this to be the case if the PSNI was actively trying to solve past crimes.
“I would be very interested to learn from the chief constable just where this store of weapons is now, and what – if anything – has been done to examine its contents.
“There are concerns that the police might be under pressure not to link weapons to historic crimes, so as to avoid political embarrassment should these weapons lead to the doors of people who Sinn Fein in particular might term ‘supporters of the peace process’.”