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‘Let O’Loan oversee UVF killer gang probe’

A police probe into dozens of loyalist murders in north Belfast should be overseen by former Police Ombudsman Dame Nuala O'Loan, a victim’s father has said.

Dame Nuala completed a damning report into the UVF gang and claimed paramilitary killers were protected from prosecution because they were police agents.

Raymond McCord’s complaint about his airman son Raymond jnr's death in 1997 prompted the former watchdog's probe.

“We want an oversight panel to ensure the PSNI investigation is done in the proper way, that collusion does not come into it again and police officers and terrorists are not allowed to escape prosecution,” he said.

People that relatives would like to see on the panel include Mr McCord, Paddy Murray, a solicitor for some of the families, Dame Nuala and Steve Hobbs from the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

Last year responsibility for the investigation, termed Operation Stafford, was removed from the HET and given to the police's serious crime branch.

It has already charged or reported 20 people to the PPS for 23 offences including murder and attempted murder. Among them was supected informer Mark Haddock.

The investigation by HET resulted in two men being jailed, nine individuals charged and eight reported to the prosecution service. The PSNI Serious Crime Branch has charged four men so far.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott and Assistant Chief Constable Crime Operations Drew Harris appeared before the Policing Board's Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee this morning to brief members on the reasons for the transfer of responsibility.

A police spokesman said: “Mr Baggott said he understood the concerns of some victims' families but pointed out that Serious Crime Branch was the most appropriate mechanism to take this work forward because of the scale, complexity and resourcing demands of the investigation.

“In addition to the existing levels of scrutiny and accountability, Mr Baggott and ACC Harris put forward a number of proposals to address issues of confidence in the investigation which is live, active and ongoing.”

Mr Murray, who accompanied relatives to a separate meeting with the committee, said it was a positive session and the terms of reference of any oversight panel were among matters discussed.

SDLP committee member Alex Attwood said the investigation could take four years. He criticised the decision to make the police responsible.

“I don't see this as the right way to go and it is up to the police to convince people that it is the right way to go,” he said.

Committee chairman Basil McCrea said: “There are obviously concerns in any live investigation about how much information can be shared and with whom so the composition of the panel and its terms of reference are important.”

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