Ben Lowry: The scandal of ex RUC officers alone facing legacy ‘misconduct’ investigations got no almost scrutiny outside this newspaper

Imagine you wanted to destroy the record of the UK’s response to the Troubles.

Saturday, 30th November 2019, 3:10 pm
Updated Saturday, 30th November 2019, 5:58 pm
The aftermath of the IRA Abercorn bomb in 1972, in which two people died, and hundreds were injured, many of them gravely so, with lost limbs. But past terrorist attacks in which people were maimed but in which no-one died would not be investigated under the legacy structures, while possibly hundreds of former RUC officers would face ‘non criminal misconduct’ probes

You would not go after the army, the largest branch of the security forces, but after the RUC. Veterans are a far larger constituency than ex police officers.

More than 100,000 soldiers served in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner. Hundreds of thousands more ex servicemen and women who did not spend time in the Province support those who did. And tens of millions of people across the UK intuitively feel solidarity with veterans.

The ex RUC, however, is a much smaller and less influential constituency of, perhaps, 25,000 people.

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The name of that former force has diminishing recognition among younger folk here, let alone among people in Great Britain.

So it is easier hound the security forces by targeting RUC before army. The former are most vulnerable in Stormont House Agreement legacy structures, because they alone face investigations for ‘non criminal police misconduct’.

This is not to suggest that most of the many architects of Stormont House in 2014 were out to ‘get’ the RUC. While some republicans are determined to chase the state, other people of goodwill from multiple perspectives did try to reach a fair compromise on legacy. But that does not mean they got it all right.

Under the mooted structures for tackling the past, terrorists who blew off people’s limbs or blinded or paralysed them, or destroyed businesses, do not face investigation unless they killed someone.

Soldiers who beat people up or behaved with excessive force when raiding homes will not face misconduct investigations either.

The army, despite its vital and widely appreciated role in preventing civil war here, has more to answer in terms of legacy than the RUC. Around 200 of the 360 state killings were by soldiers pre 1975. By then the military was becoming better trained for our conflict.

The RUC killed 55 people overall.

It ought to have been a self-evident outrage that the RUC would be singled out for ‘misconduct’ investigations given its record

Essays in our legacy scandal series (see link below) by people such as the lawyer Neil Faris or ex assistant chief constable Chris Albiston or the Ulster Unionist Jeff Dudgeon explained the injustice. Yet outside this newspaper, no media outlet took an interest in the scandal.

All media reported on the fate of veterans, which were widely mentioned at Westminster, including by Northern Ireland MPs, yet there was little focus on the coming trashing of reputations of ex RUC officers, including dead ones.

The trial of low-level soldiers for single shootings has caused widespread anger in the absence of trials of IRA leaders who orchestrated decades of terror. Yet who in the IRA army council faced a trial commensurate with their bloodshed?

You can see why the public might perceive there to be little appetite in the wider establishment to go after such leaders when dignitaries, including people in the political, justice and security worlds, were at the funeral of a long untouched IRA mastermind, Martin McGuinness.

But all the talk about persecution of veterans merely hastens the day that an amnesty for everyone is pushed through, while sub criminal inquiries into state forces continue via republican civil actions (lavishly funded by UK legal aid), inquests (costing tens of millions of pounds, including a huge Ballymurphy inquiry) and probes into the police.

Meanwhile, the plan for police misconduct probes sailed on towards the statute books without comment outside these pages.

When three academic supporters of Stormont House appeared before the NI Affairs Committee, MPs failed to scrutinise the legacy plan that the academics were defending. A single question to the trio about police misconduct was not followed up with more queries.

This week, the DUP made clear (in response to a question from me at their manifesto launch, see link below) they do not back police misconduct probes.

If misconduct investigations go ahead, a force that killed 55 people faces hundreds of claims, which would overwhelm legacy investigators with claims of collusion.

Over the years the public would lose sight of a key stat, that the state killed 10% of the dead, police least of all. They would assume there was widespread loyalist collusion, as indeed many people do now assume.

And they might well not ask, or even wonder, why then loyalist intelligence was so poor?

Or why so few of the most violent republicans, well known to the state, got killed?

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor