‘Tsunami’ of allegations about NI violence envisaged under new body
A “tsunami” of allegations about past violence in Northern Ireland would require 600 extra detectives to investigate, former senior police have said.
A proposed new independent unit of highly experienced officers would review large numbers of unresolved killings over a five-year period.
It was envisaged in an agreement reached with Stormont’s political leaders to seek justice for victims but has faced opposition from serving and former officers.
Raymond White, chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association, said: “If this legal leviathan is sold to the people of Northern Ireland as being the answer to all the problems, people will be doubly let down when it does not fly and you cannot populate it with the people of the quality needed.”
The Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) would review old cases for opportunities for fresh criminal proceedings.
Mr White is a former assistant chief constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the predecessor of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and was heavily involved in the intelligence community combating paramilitary violence.
He reiterated the commonly-held view that changes in criminal investigation standards over many decades would make it difficult to press charges.
He said those examining crime scenes during the conflict were targets themselves.
“The standards are fundamentally different, forensics recovered 30-40 years ago was not tested in a way that was DNA-proof.
“A lot of material will never make it across the threshold of becoming evidence.
“All the principles of proof would be tremendously challenged.”
Mark Lindsay, chairman of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, said his organisation opposed the creation of an HIU, branding it a parallel police service.
He added: “This clearly discriminates against former and serving officers.
“The absence of a financial mechanism to support costly legal defences in respect of the tsunami of allegations that will inevitably follow is a shocking denial that should never have been included in this draft legislation.”
The witnesses gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs at Westminster about the proposed HIU.
Mr White said there was a UK-wide shortage of experienced homicide detectives, who represented the pinnacle of the policing profession, adding that it could take months for detectives to rework each case.
Mr Lindsay said there seemed to be an intention to rewrite the history of a 35-year terrorist campaign, equating their wrongdoing with the lawful actions of officers.
He said: “It is offensive as it could allow the terrorist to tell their story without fear of sanction or prosecution, delivering a one-sided narrative where their actions could be explained as somehow justified.”