Amnesty: Ex-chief constable condemns erosion of ‘our once-cherished justice system’

A former chief constable has delivered a scathing verdict on the government’s planned Troubles amnesty, accusing politicians of having betrayed security services personnel.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 9:39 am
21/02/98 Aerial view of Moira village after a 500lb bomb expolded between the RUC station and some listed buildings

Paul Kernaghan, a highly respected figure who has held a string of major jobs in British policing, said the proposal to permanently close all investigations into pre-1998 terrorist offences is just the latest blow to our “once-cherished system of criminal justice”.

Mr Kernaghan, who hails from Northern Ireland, became the chief constable of Hampshire in 1999, and held the post for about nine years.

The constabulary was responsible for an area covering the major port cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, with a population of some two million people – slightly bigger than Northern Ireland.

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A burning bus in 1969 Belfast

Before that he had served in the UDR from 1974 to 1977, and had joined the RUC in 1978.

In the 1990s, just before heading up the Hampshire force, he worked as deputy chief of North Yorkshire Police.

And his resume still doesn’t end there.

After retiring as chief constable in 2008, he subsequently became the EU’s head of mission for supporting Palestine’s police force in Ramallah; he was appointed the House of Lords’ commissioner for standards; he took up the role of judicial appointments and conduct ombudsman; and he also served on the board of the Civil Nuclear Police Authority.

Paul Kernaghan

In addition, he was in charge of international affairs for the Association of Chief Police Officers for eight years, and holds a law degree.

The amnesty proposals were set out by NI Secretary Brandon Lewis last week, and immediately met a firewall of resistance.

Writing in the News Letter, Mr Kernaghan said: “I and everyone else I knew who served in the security forces sought to defend democracy and uphold the rule of law.

“We were repeatedly told by politicians, of all parties, that terrorists were criminals and would be held to account by the criminal justice process.

“Sadly, the commitment of politicians to justice was obviously somewhat more flexible than was that of security force personnel.”

He said that public faith in the justice system has been eroded by constant “deviation” from established norms – namely, “the early release of mass murderers, token imprisonment of others, and [also] the covert ‘letters-of-comfort’ to terrorists”.

All this has “given rise to the not entirely unwarranted claim that the system is biased”.

He recognises that nowadays few Troubles convictions will be achieved, but that to “meekly abandon the criminal justice system” would “surely would be the ultimate betrayal of the sacrifices made by the security forces and, indeed, those of the wider population to resist terrorism through the rule of law”.


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