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Coronavirus: Troubles-era probes are paused to free up officers

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Temporary measure: Simon Byrne

Temporary measure: Simon Byrne

Temporary measure: Simon Byrne

Police investigations into Troubles-era cases will be paused during the coronavirus crisis, the Chief Constable has announced.

Simon Byrne has also confirmed the introduction of spit and bite guards for some officers working on the frontline.

Announcing the temporary changes in a video posted on the PSNI's Twitter feed last night, Mr Byrne said officers and staff working on legacy were being transferred to bolster numbers as police worked to resume normal service amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Byrne revealed that over the last weekend, officers dealt with more than 2,700 calls which included domestic abuse incidents and missing people.

"We have taken the decision to temporarily suspend all legacy investigations and release the officers and staff to provide immediate resilience to the PSNI's critical policing functions," he said.

"We of course understand that this will be difficult for the families that have lost loved ones and it's important to say that we recognise the continuing distress this decision will cause to many people who have suffered as a result of the Troubles.

"This is a temporary measure and we will keep our decision under review as the current situation develops," he added.

The PSNI's legacy unit is dealing with more than 1,000 unresolved cases.

Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said the redeployment of officers was unavoidable and understandable.

He added: "I fully understand that for many victims of terrorism who seek information and closure, this will be a disappointing development.

"This doesn't mean that examining cases from the past will be forgotten.

"It simply means that the policing pressures of the here and now are so demanding that it requires the redeployment of all available officers.

"This redeployment will provide much-needed resilience.

"Of course, what it also reflects is the fact that we are seriously under-resourced by several hundred officers and at this critical time, this glaring shortcoming is exposed," Mr Lindsay said.

Kenny Donaldson, Director of Services with victims group SEFF, added: "Our organisation and advocacy service enjoys a constructive relationship with the leadership of the Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB).

"If Legacy officers can be redeployed to help combat Covid-19 at this time of national crisis then we understand and so too will our members.

"Beyond this difficult period we will be seeking a renewed determination from the LIB and, moreover, the PSNI to actively lead on legacy," he said.

The chief constable also announced that spit and bite guard equipment was being made available to some officers for their protection.

There have been several incidents of police officers being spat or coughed at by people claiming to have coronavirus.

The guards, made of mesh and plastic and placed over the head of a person who is threatening to spit or bite officers, are to be deployed in custody suites, it was announced last week.

Mr Byrne said their use will be in line with human rights, videoed where possible, and the circumstances referred to the Police Ombudsman.

"Given the unique and exceptional circumstances we face, I intend to make spit and bite guard equipment temporarily available to those dedicated Covid officers and those using cell vans, as well as people working in custody suites," he said.

Belfast Telegraph