Matt Baggott is pretty much leaving the PSNI in the same way as he joined in 2009. At that time, he was being pressed by the Coroner John Leckey to release files on shoot-to-kill cases from 1982 so that inquests could be held. His predecessor, Hugh Orde had been ignoring a similar request since 2007. At the time, the PSNI released a statement saying:
The PSNI wishes to re-emphasise its willingness to co-operate fully with the coroner and continues to proceed as expeditiously as possible with a comprehensive disclosure exercise that involves a thorough evaluation of any risks to national security and consideration of human rights issues.
Last month, the coroner made his latest plea to have the files released. In an almost unprecedented attack, he pointed out that:
- It should be viewed as an “enormous source of embarrassment to the state that these inquests have not been held”.
- The PSNI’s attitude to disclosing sensitive material to inquests is “driving up costs”.
- The senior coroner is “deeply frustrated” that, despite making a request three years ago, his office has yet to be provided with its own expert investigator to assist with cases.
- Mr Leckey warns that if the European Court of Human Rights imposes sanctions for continued delays in holding inquests he will not allow the coroner’s office to be blamed.
Yesterday, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly issued a statement condemning the policy of obstructing inquests, adding that Coroner had written to the Secretary of State three weeks ago and she had, so far, ignored the letter. Leckey had given Baggot six weeks to hand the file over when he took up the post in August 2009. He still hasn’t done so and it is two hundred and fifty four weeks later.
Today, as he prepared to leave his role as PSNI Chief Constable, he told the BBC that there was a:
…need to separate the past from the present. I think how ever that is done, the PSNI should no longer be accountable [my emphasis] for dealing with issues that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement. We have to create a situation where police resources are focused on the here and now, without taking away from the needs of justice or victims.
If one thing has become even clearer in Baggott’s 254 weeks in charge, the PSNI (like the RUC) is and never was held accountable. On the very same day as this statement was issued, a Police Ombudsman report has been published on the killing of an RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell by loyalist paramilitaries and/or RUC men finds heavily against the RUC. It identifies a failure to investigate the death, including involvement of loyalist paramilitaries, that information had been withheld by the RUC on a threat to Campbell’s life, and, that documents had not been disclosed or destroyed by the RUC or PSNI (the Ombudsman fudges this point on who is responsible).
Despite the grand aspirations of 2009, Baggott’s tenure is limping out largely as it began. The continued failures to consistently and equitably engage over issues like the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy (as mentioned above), McGurks Bar, Ballymurphy and Claudy, never mind complete avoidance of the abject failings exposed in Lethal Allies, put significant context on pleas that the PSNI should no longer investigate pre-1998 issues. Alongside the comments by the Attorney General in 2013 that were recently re-hashed by the Secretary of State, there is at least some consistency in Baggott’s attitude. Clearly, not only does the British government, through its various channels, not wish for any form of meaningful scrutiny of the past where the state’s own forces and proxies were involved, it will actively (and pretty much overtly) obstruct attempts to do so. Collectively, this is a continued refusal of the right to an effective remedy (a breach of Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights).
So Matt Baggott is just the latest in a long line of RUC and PSNI Chief Constables who won’t be missed.