April 05 2012

Independent inspectors are to examine claims the police’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) does not properly investigate Troubles killings carried out by soldiers.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott has asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to conduct the review of the HET cold case unit in response to the concerns raised in an academic report.

Dr Patricia Lundy, from the University of Ulster, claimed HET investigators acted differently when interviewing former soldiers and ex-paramilitaries. She said military personnel were treated more favourably, were often questioned as witnesses instead of suspects and were afforded more disclosure of material prior to interview.

The HET, which is investigating more than 150 cases involving soldiers, has rejected the criticism.

Mr Baggott informed members of the Policing Board that HMIC will now assess investigative practices within the HET. He stressed that the HET had done some great work in pressurised circumstances and many families were very satisfied with their work.

“That said, I absolutely recognise there are public concerns and concerns around the families in relation to the recent report and it’s important for me as chief constable that I seek an independent way of having a look at those concerns and validating the investigations that involved military personnel,” he said.

The region’s top police officer said Policing Board members would be consulted on the terms of reference of the HMIC review. “We will take that forward,” he said. “I do acknowledge the public concerns and I acknowledge the need for reassurance for the families and for an independent look at these issues.”

Sinn Fein board member Gerry Kelly said the matter could hit public confidence in the HET. “There is clearly a concern that there is a different approach being taken in interviews when the team has been dealing with soldiers or ex-British Army and civilians and it’s this comparison of approaches which I think is an issue of some public confidence,” he said.

Board chairman Brian Rea added: “The Historical Enquiries Team was established as a mechanism to address the issue of historical murders. It is important that the structures and investigative practices of the HET are assessed to ensure the required standards are met and there is consistency of approach.”

The latest crime statistics were also made available at the monthly meeting of the PSNI’s scrutiny body. They showed that burglaries are down by more than 11% from this time last year (1,303 fewer) and the detection rate for serious sexual crimes is up from 19.6% in 2011 to 25.6%. Allegations of incivility by police officers are down by almost 9% – with 54 fewer recorded in the last 12 months. The time officers spend on the beat has increased by almost two hours a shift – a consequence of a drive to cut down on red tape within the PSNI.