Belfast Telegraph

Unravelling secrets of our troubled past

The Historical Enquiries Team has reached the half-way mark in its investigation of Troubles-related killings. Alan Murray reports

Owen Paterson's blunt rejection of the lobby to set up a 'Truth Commission' to examine our past misdeeds looks like a final notice.

The Secretary of State's dismissal of the idea as a "naive belief" would appear to consign the proposal to the Tories' waste bin.

So, if there is to be no money-consuming commission, what is there for those here who want answers?

Away from the glare of the media spotlight, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has toiled to bring answers to the 3,200-plus families who lost loved ones during the Troubles.

It has now completed more than half of the cases and the deaths associated with our near-40-year conflict. Of the total of 2,559 cases presented to the HET to investigate, it has now completed investigations into 1,353 of those events, which cover 1,761 of the total of 3,259 deaths determined as 'Troubles-related'.

Another 1,206 cases covering 1,498 deaths have yet to be examined, meaning that the HET and its staff will be working through catalogues of RUC and Army files for another two to three years.

The HET case review may not answer every question in the minds of relatives about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones, but according to the latest survey of the HET's performance it is answering most of them.

The survey - carried out over the summer - has revealed a high degree of satisfaction with the work of the HET.

Conducted by Quadriga Consulting, it involved contacting 230 families who had recently received reports from the HET examining the deaths of their loved ones and seeking their views.

The results of the survey, which have been seen by the Belfast Telegraph, show a remarkably high satisfaction rate and a continuing improvement in the performance of the HET.

In answer to the question, 'Did the HET answer all of your questions about the death of your family member?' more than 82% of families answered either 'fully' or 'mostly'. Only 2.1% of respondents said 'not at all'.

More than 77% of respondents described the HET report presented to them as either 'very useful', or 'useful', with less than 7% saying it was 'not at all useful' - a major improvement on the 24.1% who responded in this way in an earlier survey.

Some 90% of respondents were either 'satisfied', or 'very satisfied', with the performance of the HET, with just 2.6% expressing dissatisfaction. More than 88% of respondents found the experience of engaging with the HET 'beneficial', or 'very beneficial', with just 4.2% declaring a 'not at all beneficial' verdict.

The professionalism and sensitivity of the HET's staff was rated as almost 97% by respondents, with just over 2% disagreeing.

Jeffrey Peel, the managing director of Quadriga Consulting, said that the survey indicated that the overwhelming number of families surveyed had derived some benefit from the HET's investigations.

"This is the third year that we have conducted family-satisfaction research for the HET," he said. "This year, we interviewed many more family representatives - 190 this year compared to 143 last year and 116 in 2009. Satisfaction with the HET has been high in previous years, but this year we saw marked improvements. Over 90% of family members - across all community groups - indicated that they were 'satisfied', or 'very satisfied' with the HET.

"We also noted a significant increase in satisfaction with the quality of the reports provided to families. The feedback from families is that most derive benefit from the HET's work."

The man who has been responsible for the work of the HET since its inception in 2006 - Dave Cox - is undoubtedly pleased with the survey's findings.

"We have around 900 years' collective CID experience across the range of HET investigation teams," he said.

"Around the table, we have probably an unparalleled range of investigatory knowledge and we are getting better at doing our job."

The former head of West Yorkshire CID, Paul Johnston, who heads a team which specifically investigates Army killings, explained: "Quite simply, we now know where to look having been around the course several times.

"It's not a question of the Army being obstructive; it's more to do with the large volume of men who served in Northern Ireland; the number of regiments and the different ways different regiments recorded events."

Mr Cox knows that he will not be able to please everyone in Northern Ireland and that some will seek a wider platform than the HET, but he says he is pleased with the feedback from those who have received reports into the deaths of their loved-ones.

"I am very pleased with the results. Sometimes, we are the first contact about a fatality that a family has had in 40 years and I am particularly pleased that the survey found we have acted professionally and with sensitivity.

"Families need answers now and our remit is to try to answer their questions as fully as possible. It is not the case that we lack external oversight; we are answerable to the Chief Constable and the Policing Board and to the relatives of the victims and they are of paramount importance."

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