Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Outrage as Stormont cuts Historical Enquiries Team cash

Public confidence in the body responsible for investigating Troubles killings could be undermined after Stormont's Justice Department cut its funding, said an MLA.

The department recently refused a £10m request from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), and asked the PSNI to put forward the money from its own reserves.

But SDLP Policing Board member Conall McDevitt has called on Justice Minister David Ford to intervene and ensure his department continues to fund the team directly.

"The suggestion that the PSNI should fund the HET is ill-judged and could serve to undermine public confidence in the HET as well as their independence which is so important to many families of Troubles victims requiring its services," he said.

"It also places the PSNI in a position where a choice may have to be made between funding the present policing needs of Northern Ireland or supporting the HET. This is absolutely unacceptable.

"The minister for Justice needs to urgently clarify his position on this matter. The SDLP would never support any undermining of the HET's independence, nor should any Justice Minister."

The HET is a unit of the PSNI set up in 2005 to investigate 3,269 unsolved murders from the Troubles. It is accountable directly to the Chief Constable and its remit covers the period of 1968 to 1998, made-up of a team of investigators split into two areas – review and investigation.

The review team is staffed by officers from outside Northern Ireland, to ensure independence, while the investigation team can include local investigators. The inquiries team aims to bring closure to families with unanswered questions about the death or disappearance of their loved ones.

Speaking to the BBC, Dave Cox, director of the HET, said the decision could mean hundreds of murders may not be re-examined.

He said he was worried the decision could jeopardise its independence, deterring those who do not want former police officers involved in their investigations.

"Independence is a crucial issue in those cases and families, some of them accept us, some of them don't, but they certainly wouldn't accept us if we were the PSNI because that is just the history of this place," he said.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said the organisation's work was a priority and its intention is that the work will continue.

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