The PSNI has confirmed that it still holds some paramilitary weapons and that it will hand them over to a proposed Historical Investigations Unit for criminal investigations.
The news comes after the News Letter reported on Thursday that the Forensic Service of Northern Ireland (FSNI) had boasted to the Duke of York during a royal visit in 2006 that it held “a container load” of paramilitary weapons that could now be forensically used to convict terrorists for historic murders.
The report came after the Chief Constable George Hamilton said this week that only 4% of outstanding Troubles murders could be solved because so many weapons had been decommissioned.
In Thursday’s News Letter UUP MLA Doug Beattie said the existence of “a container load” of weapons was “very interesting” and challenged Mr Hamilton to say whether it had been fully examined for forensic evidence, adding that there are concerns that the police “might be under pressure not to link weapons to historic crimes so as to avoid political embarrassment” to Sinn Fein.
On Friday morning ACC George Clarke denied there was ever a literal container but confirmed that the weapons would be handed over to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit to examine.
“The PSNI’s job is to secure and preserve evidence and seek to bring offenders to justice by presenting that evidence to the PPS,” Mr Clarke said. “There is no container full of weapons held by FSNI nor was there such a container in 2006. FSNI did have in their possession at that time, for storage purposes only, some weapons which had been seized by PSNI over a number of years. However, these weapons are now held by the PSNI. Any weapon coming into the possession of the police is subjected to ballistic testing and any other examination that the investigating officer and scientist deems necessary and suitable. Please be assured that the PSNI will exploit all appropriate lines of investigation and if there are scientific advances over time the weapons can be re-examined. If a new Historical Investigation Unit is created the PSNI will ensure that all retained weapons are made available to them.”
The FSNI said it held “a substantial number of firearms” from 2006-2009 which were examined forensically and returned to police in 2009.