Northern Ireland’s killings review team criticised in report
Chief Constable orders long-term review of Historical Enquiries Team
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott: apologised for the failures and said he accepted the HMIC report in full. Photograph: Eric Luke
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is to conduct a long-term review of the Historical Enquiries Team (Het) after a detailed report found it was less rigorous in its investigation of British state killings than of paramilitary killings.
The damning report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that such were the deficiencies at several levels in the operations of the inquiries team that they risked undermining the confidence of the families of those who died during the Troubles in its “effectiveness and impartiality”.
The team was established in 2005 to review 3,260 killings that occurred during 30 years of the Troubles between 1968 and 1998. Part of its work is reviewing 157 killings by the British army between 1970 and 1973. The report published yesterday by the British inspectorate found its approach to its work was inconsistent, particularly in relation to killings by the British army.
“The Het treats state involvement cases differently as a matter of policy and this appears to be based on a misinterpretation of the law. This is entirely wrong, and has led to state involvement cases being reviewed with less rigour in some areas than non-state cases,” the inspectors reported.
According to Stephen Otter, head of the inspectorate, since 2010 there were 39 cases involving 119 killings referred back to the PSNI for potential criminal investigation. However during this time frame, no British military cases were referred to the PSNI for further investigation.
“It is striking that not one state involvement case relating to the British army has to date been referred to the PSNI for further investigation or prosecution,” the report stated. The inspectorate said the manner in which the team interviewed military witnesses prejudiced potential future cases.
“HMIC is concerned that the inconsistencies we found in our review may seriously undermine the capability of the Het’s processes to determine whether the force used in killings during the Troubles was justified in state involvement cases, therefore potentially preventing the identification and punishment of those responsible,” added Mr Otter.
The inspectorate also found that the Het’s approach to British army cases was inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which “imposes an obligation on states to conduct an effective official investigation where individuals have been killed as a result of the use of force”.
The report was also a vindication of the work of Prof Patricia Lundy of the University of Ulster, who after a 2008 investigation reported that the Het was treating security forces differently from citizen witnesses. At the time the Het and the PSNI rejected her findings.
PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott apologised for the failures and said he accepted the HMIC report in full.