New staff for 'shoot-to-kill' probe
Retired police officers charged with reading and redacting classified material for use at inquests into alleged shoot-to-kill incidents will be replaced.
Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said the PSNI hoped to recruit new staff for its Legacy Support Unit which is trawling through thousands of sensitive documents relating to six controversial deaths involving the security forces over 30 years ago.
She said: "Longer term there is a plan to replace all of those staff in the Legacy Support Unit through open, fair and transparent competition and I would hope within the next year to 18 months all of the staff will be replaced which should assuage concerns going forward."
Lawyers for the families of six men had raised concerns after it emerged that four former RUC Special Branch members and an ex-RUC intelligence officer were chosen by the chief constable to prepare material for disclosure. Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said it was an obvious conflict of interest that those in charge of the disclosure process could know as many as 92 potential inquest witnesses.
He told a meeting of the Policing Board: "If people worked with people who are pertinent to these inquests, and let's not forget the families have waited for some of these inquests for decades, they now have to face the fact that the people who are going through the disclosure process are the people who are connected directly to those who could be potential witnesses - as many as 92.
"I am a lay person but to me, that seems incredible that would not be looked upon as a conflict of interest."
IRA men Sean Burns, Eugene Toman and Gervaise McKerr were killed near Lurgan, County Armagh, in November 1982. Catholic teenager Michael Tighe was shot dead by police at a hay shed near Craigavon, County Armagh, in November 1982 and suspected INLA men Roddy Carroll and Seamus Grew were fatally wounded near Armagh in December of the same year.
Their deaths are being examined Northern Ireland's senior coroner. John Leckey is also looking into the murder of three RUC officers in a bomb blast weeks earlier, an attack allegedly carried out by the IRA men who were subsequently gunned down and therefore seen as a potential motivation for the claimed shoot-to-kill policy.
An investigation into whether police set out to kill was carried out in the years after the incidents by former Greater Manchester Police deputy chief constable John Stalker and Sir Colin Sampson of West Yorkshire Police. The Stalker and Sampson reports were long classified top secret but PSNI finally handed over edited versions to the coroner in 2010 after a lengthy legal battle. The reports were then passed to lawyers for the families.
The Government has always denied any shoot-to-kill policy existed.