The investigative journalist John Ware has laid bare a furious disagreement between senior police officers over the record and fate of the Historical Enquiries Team, which was finally and suddenly scrapped in September. The HET’s demise combined with cuts to the Police Ombudsman’s budget means that for the first time ever, there is effectively no official agency investigating the legacy of the Troubles, at a time when new attempts are being made to address the entire agenda. It remains to be seen whether this will spur the parties on to a new agreement, or allow legacy issues finally to lapse.
Ware’s article appears in Prospect magazine available by subscription only, which is a pity. It is closely argued and deserves a full reading. Hopefully a local paper will secure a reprint.
What really did for the HET was a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, based on a report by the UU professor Patricia Lundy in 2008. The HET gave her virtually unfettered access and were, says Ware, astonished when she produced a highly critical report citing anomalies and inconsistencies in the way HET investigated army killings compared to paramilitary suspects.
Ware himself clearly comes out in favour of the HET despite its flaws. He gives support to Hugh Orde to whom he has had access. Orde excoriates the HMIC report which fatally undermined I his baby the HET – and by implication his successor Matt Baggott. They misunderstood HET’s function, Orde claims.
“The only original idea I’ve had in policing. No one else stood up to be counted or implement the Eames- Bradley review… In private Orde said about the HMIC report:
“Matt Baggott should have called a press conference and chucked (the HMIC report) in the bin. Matt should have said: “This has no relevance to what HET’s objective is. I’m not taking any notice of it”
Satisfaction surveys recorded 64% “very satisfied “. 17 Army cases on which the HET conducted interviews under caution and which have yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of families, represent just 0.2% of the more than 1800 cases completed by HET.
However Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre is quoted as saying that: “The fact remains that, particularly where no NGO was involved, HET produced some dreadful reports that retraumatised families.” But Ware retorts, it’s also clear that HET brought peace of mind to many families.
Order also levels criticism at Baggott for the terms of reference he drew up for the HMIC; “Does the HET approach conform to current police standards and practices?” and “Is it compliant with the Human Rights Convention ( Article 2 on upholding the right to life)? The answer was always No insists Orde, who explained as much to the Council of Europe. Orde is quoted as believing that the HMIC inspection “set HET up to fail” – whereas its real job was not to reach the highest evidential standards for a court but to give available information to families.
In reply an HMIC defender says: “I do think HET was a great design by Hugh Orde. The problem was, it was poorly executed.
Why is there such division over the HET’s record? Partly it’s about nationalist suspicion that any case review body has a natural bias in favour of the State. Ware comments that this charge sits oddly with HET reports that exposed collusion over the 1975 murders of the Miami showband and in its approach to the “killing of innocent civilians by the undercover Military Reaction Force” investigated by Ware himself for BBC Panorama last year.
More important though is the flaw at the heart of any mission to deal with the past: the fact that technically cases can still be pursued with a view to prosecution.
What now, as the parties once again dance round the issue of talks about the past, present and future? Ware is not quite right when he says no one has yet come up with an alternative. In fact this is precisely what Hass has done in the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU). This is backed by the Alliance leader and Justice Minister David Ford. Ford also backs the idea of additional funding by the British government which Westminster has consistently resisted. Its aim is to deter any prospect of endless, open ended investigations. At the same time the government is dead set against the idea of formal amnesty. Until this contradiction is resolved, the fate of historical investigation is likely to remain up in the air. I
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