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'Only a body independent of police can probe past'

By David Young

Published 07/08/2015

The Chief Constable has told a west Belfast audience that he wants to wash his hands of investigating Northern Ireland's troubled past - and couldn't be seen as an effective 'honest broker' even if he did.

George Hamilton said he wants to hand all historical material relating to the Troubles held by the PSNI over to a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU).

And he accepted that the PSNI could not be seen as neutral while handling probes into the past.

"I want to give full ownership of all the material for which I have responsibility as Chief Constable to do with the Troubles/conflict over to the future Director of the HIU," he told the Feile an Phobail audience in St Mary's College on the Falls Road. I don't want you accusing me of being the gatekeeper, not releasing information, being risk-averse around redactions.

"I want to give that responsibility to someone who is seen as more of an honest broker."

It was essential, he said, for public confidence that all historical material relating to the Troubles should be given to the new organisation, proposed as part of the stalled Stormont House Agreement.

"A Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) would take the past away from the PSNI, leaving us to focus on the present," the Chief Constable said.

"While the PSNI - with our own legacy and baggage and all the rest of it - have control over the direction of these investigations," he told his audience, "then there will be people - many of them in this room - who I suspect will not have confidence in the impartiality of the investigations."

Mr Hamilton was speaking on a panel alongside Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as part of a debate on how Northern Ireland could deal with its violent past.

Outside the packed hall, around a hundred protesters loudly demonstrated against the PSNI chief's presence in the most republican part of the city.

The Chief Constable began his talk by recognising that for many in his audience, his presence was unwelcome.

"My being here is difficult for some," he said. "There are those who don't want me here at all. But I've come."

He acknowledged the hurt many in his audience had suffered during the years of the Troubles, and accepted that there had been serious problems with policing in the past.

The audience listened intently as he spelled out the tightening budgetary, legislative and political context within which the PSNI has to operate.

Mr Hamilton made it clear that the current structures and processes for dealing with the past were in a mess, and said the implementation of proposals contained in the Stormont House agreement - most importantly the establishment of a HIU - was the way forward.

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