New collusion lead for historic inquires

Guardian correspondent Owen Boycott reports that the Historic Enquiries Team has uncovered evidence of another two collusion cases from the early 70s. It isn’t revealed what these relate to but Phil James deputy director of the HET says it will take to 2013 before every case has been reviewed, two years later than the target date. The HET have certainly made an impact, for instance uncovering more about loyalist terrorism than before. Controversy over the “Glenanne gang “continues but “first enquiries” into these are complete and a more “holistic approach” has been adopted – suggesting perhaps that the Glenanne poison stretched even further beyond Co Armagh than realised already. James also asserts the HET’s continuing independence after whatever overall Truth proposals follow on from the Eames/Bradley final report due out before the end of the year. Will the HETs work increase public confidence or raise further suspicions? Much depends on whether people, suspicious families in particular, are able to match the enquiry team’s impartiality with open minds. What would really make a difference would be if those involved were to come forward and confess under immunity. The problem is the lack of either pressure or incentive to do so.

Pressure for the HET to be more selective in their enquiries has come from the Commons NI Select Committee in a two stage report on the cost of dealing with the past in June and earlier this month. The HET are examining all 3268 deaths in 2516 cases since 1969. From early 2006 when they began work to May this year the HET had opened 1107 cases and completed but not closed 368 cases up to 1973. Clearly at this pace, there’s a lot left to cover and much more time and money will be needed, as the committee report confirms. The total budget of £34 million is likely to be exceeded by £16.77m. James’ comments to the Guardian suggests the team is not about to shift from their case-by-case chronological approach anytime soon.

Families have co-operated with them in 62% of cases, some of them after the HET had begun work. On the question of whether the team is seen to be independent, the select committee and the Chief Constable are not opposed to putting it under the remit of a new independent – and presumably international – body if Eames/Bradley so recommends and the government agrees.

44 cases of alleged police misconduct have been referred to the police ombudsman. Other cases involving the army and paramilitaries are being processed by the HET themselves.

Hugh Orde admits that few prosecutions are likely. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield who compiled a Victims report some years ago told the committee: “For me, there seems something rather perverse about a situation where over a great many years a large number of people were very properly convicted for committing atrocious crimes and then in the context of the political settlement the jails were emptied and they are all out again. For what purpose do we devote quite so much of a resource, human resource and financial resource, to pursuing all of these old cases because clearly what we are not going to do is end up locking more people up”. Quite so.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London