New blow to victims' families
Investigations unit will be powerless to make suspects attend interviews
The new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will not be able to compel witnesses and suspects to attend interviews for questioning, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
It means some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles - such as Bloody Sunday, Droppin' Well and Claudy - may never be solved.
In an email to the Belfast Telegraph, a Department of Justice spokesperson has confirmed that the HIU, like its predecessor the Historical Enquiries Team (HET), would not have statutory powers to compel either witnesses or suspects to attend interviews.
This will affect all outstanding HET cases, other cases which are to be re-investigated and the Police Ombudsman's historical investigations which are due to be transferred to the HIU.
"The HIU needs to have the powers to actually examine people, be they witnesses or suspects, to be able to effectively investigate crimes that have been committed", said Padraigin Drinan, a retired human rights lawyer who works with victims.
Arthur Rafferty - whose father Arthur was murdered by the IRA in September 1974 - also criticised the HIU's lack of powers to compel witnesses and suspects to attend interviews.
"Surely to God, if they're not going to do that, it's a waste of time," he said. "They should be able to go to (retired police officers) and question them. They should be able to do it with everybody. We have a politician running around shaking hands with Presidents and Prime Ministers. If you and I were accused of the crimes he's been accused of, we'd be up on charges, but these people seem to have immunity."
Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA in 1984 as her family left church, said that when the HET was investigating the attack, it wrote to Mary McArdle - the only person convicted in relation to the murder - asking for her co-operation.
"She didn't reply. Victims are use to being let down," she said.
"I just wish the Government would start to listen to us and what our needs are. For many, that is knowing who gave the order to murder and who else was involved.
"In my mind, families who enter into the HIU process will be informed that perpetrators won't be prosecuted due to information they give. This is the limited immunity part.
"What's missing from this in my mind, is not being told who was involved.
"We are still left guessing. Still not knowing who to trust. This lets victims down."
Kate Nash, sister of Bloody Sunday victim William Nash, said: "I don't trust the whole set-up. They're attempting to practise another great deception on the victims of this country. It's the state protecting the state and those they deem useful. It was a dirty war and now it's a dirty peace."
A PSNI spokesperson said: "The Chief Constable has made it clear that until legislation establishes the new body, the responsibility for progressing current investigations remains with the PSNI as part of our statutory obligations.
"We will, within available resources, and against current public safety priorities, continue with reviews and investigations into legacy cases including the Bloody Sunday investigation."