Belfast Telegraph

Past atrocities must be probed to give us a future

Winding up the HET before it completes its work betrays victims and their relatives, argues Alan Murray

As Jeffrey Donaldson and Alex Attwood pointed out yesterday, it would be a travesty if the Historical Enquiries Team was wound up before all the cases within its remit were reviewed.

Four years after it was established, the HET is nowhere near completing its trawl through the 3,269 murder files that were piled on its desks.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott's comments echo those of his predecessor Hugh Orde two years ago, when he observed how great a drain 'policing the past' was on his financial resources.

In November 2008, staff working for the HET were warned that there could be job loses before Christmas that year.

A statement then warned that any extra resources sought by the PSNI for the work of the HET "has to be judged against the overall challenging financial position".

And that must be borne in mind as we await the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly in 12 days' time.

When that happens, the financial restraints upon the PSNI and the other agencies funded from the 'security budget' will become increasingly tight.

Whoever next occupies numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street will be disinclined to provide additional funding beyond the heralded £800m-plus that has been 'guaranteed' for security contingencies.

That's why Matt Baggott is firing shots across the bows of this community on the eve of policing and justice devolution because he knows that investigative trawling through our violent past could continue indefinitely.

But, as many will point out, if £200m-plus can be set aside in a bid to unravel who fired the first shot on Bloody Sunday, surely sufficient funds can be found to pay courtesy to the families of all those who lost their lives in other instances in the Troubles.

And, as Jeffrey Donaldson has also pointed out, the money for the HET exercise was 'ring-fenced', so what is Mr Baggott's problem? Have costs rocketed?

The Chief Constable has ventilated his views about HET costs to the Policing Board since his appointment. Now he has deliberately made a public utterance that has, unfortunately, generated uncertainty in the minds of the relatives of the victims.

It's only recently that the PSNI was able to conclude arrangements with Lord Stevens to conclude his contractual arrangements with the force in relation to his investigations.

According to the HET, reviews have commenced in relation to 1,459 murders - that's fewer than half the total number of murders committed during the Troubles.

With most of the murder weapons destroyed and little stored 'forensic' evidence of potential value, the prospect for securing convictions through the HET's review process is limited.

Operation Ballast, which was initiated by the Police Ombudsman, has, according to Basil McCrea MLA, eaten up one quarter of the HET's budget. It has resulted in around a dozen UVF activists being brought before the courts on serious terrorist charges with a further 30 earmarked for arrest and prosecution.

The PSNI has taken over the investigation, which means that Matt Baggot's budget - rather than the HET's - will foot the bill for further investigations and prosecutions.

Notwithstanding the reservations of Raymond McCord and other victims of the Mount Vernon UVF in north Belfast, it is probably the best procedure now for the pursuit of this gang.

It would be an understatement to say that the HET has enough to do to occupy its staff here and deplete its finite resources.

Only last weekend it was suggested that the death of an IRA member in Long Kesh in 1973 was murder rather than suicide.

Brendan 'The Dark' Hughes has now suggested that Patrick Crawford's murder was ordered by the IRA to appear as a suicide.

Crawford, (22), was found hanging in the woodwork room of Cage Five. His death is not currently within the remit of HET to review and, with Hughes dead, few, if any, in the IRA who have knowledge of the true circumstances, are likely to step forward and corroborate his assertion. Nevertheless, Patrick Crawford's death should now become case 3,270 in the mountain of files in the HET's vault - if only to observe the principle that every victim of the conflict deserves - at the very least - that the reasons behind their death is made known.

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