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Troubles-era justice is costing £30m annually

BY MICHAEL McHUGH

Dealing with the past is costing Northern Ireland's criminal justice system more than £30m a year and risks denting public confidence in present-day services, an inspection has revealed.

Long-delayed inquests into conflict deaths are taking hours of police service preparation, a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) of independent detectives is looking into thousands of unresolved Troubles killings and the Police Ombudsman has scrutinised murder investigations dating back decades.

It has also emerged that detectives investigating a murder were pulled off the case to check documents for the long-delayed inquest into murdered Co Tyrone teenager Arlene Arkinson.

Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, said a legacy group with membership drawn from across the services should be established to improve communication.

He said: "The report looked at the estimated total costs, which may exceed over £187m in five years' time, and the implications and risks that legacy issues can create in terms of reduced public confidence in the criminal justice system, and the ability of criminal justice agencies to deliver effective and efficient services now and in the future."

Mr McGuigan said the system had not been structured to deal with the past and could not provide a comprehensive solution.

Without political consensus, the chief inspector advocated the establishment of a legacy executive group with membership from across the system to improve communications and create a common strategy.

"This group could in turn address key issues such as the prioritisation, co-ordination and progression of legacy cases which may be beneficial in terms of managing the needs and expectations of victims and their families," he said.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie also revealed how a murder investigation team was diverted from its duties to process papers for the Arlene inquest, such is the mounting pressure on the police unit tasked with disclosing historic files. In attempting to explain the problems facing the PSNI, Ms Gillespie told members of the Policing Board that the workload on the legacy support unit had tripled in a year.

The police commander said the step to move the detectives was taken as the police unit that deals with redacting files for the coroner's court was already overloaded with work linked to the so-called shoot-to-kill inquests and the required disclosure of the top secret Stalker/Sampson reports on the deaths.

In response to the report, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said that with diminishing budgets and growing operational pressures on his officers, "there must be realistic and challenging conversations about where the past fits within current policing priorities".

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