Belfast Telegraph

Ex-PSNI chief Orde tells of anger over end of HET - 'I would have thrown report in bin'

The former PSNI chief constable Sir Hugh Orde.
The former PSNI chief constable Sir Hugh Orde.

The former PSNI chief constable Sir Hugh Orde has said the publication of a report that criticised the Historical Enquiries Team for their review of certain cases was "the only thing" he got angry about in policing.

He also said he felt it "suited" people to see the organisation wound up as its worked neared more recent killings.

The report, which was headed by the a former English chief constable Stephen Otter and published in July 2013, found the Historical Enquiries Team had reviewed some killings by the British army and RUC with "less rigour" than other cases.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Hugh Orde said he felt Mr Otter had no understanding of the HET or Northern Ireland.

"It’s the only thing I really got angry about in policing,” he said.

After Sir Hugh stood down in 2009, Matt Baggott took over as PSNI chief.

Mr Baggott accepted the inspectorate's report, something Sir Orde said infuriates him.

"If I had been there when the report came out I would have called a press conference and thrown it in the bin on live television. I would have said, ‘Now what are we going to do? We are going to keep going. Take me to court if you want.’ We would have finished it.

"The ultimate success of the inspectorate’s report was to stop the one thing that was trying to do its best to do something about the past.”

The HET's remit was to review around 3,500 Troubles-related killings. It eventually reviewed 2,000 of them before being wound up in 2014.

Sir Hugh, who now runs a consulting business dealing with police reform and counter terrorism issues and is also involved with Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell in international peace-process matters, believes if it had continued it work, a complete review could have been undertaken.

A new Historical investigations Unit is now being considered by the British Government, which would have more power than the HET, although it has been opposed by eight members of the House of Lords with experience of Northern Ireland.

They include former Northern secretaries Peter Hain, John Reid, Paul Murphy and Tom King, as well as Chris Patten, whose report on police reform led to the creation of the PSNI, and the former Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Robin Eames.

They argued that with only 17 referrals to the PPS and three prosecutions for murder, it would be better to use the £150million earmarked for that organisation for victims and survivors of the Troubles.

Sir Hugh believes the fact that the HET was getting close to modern-day murders was a factor in the decision to shut it down.

"I think it just suited people to get rid of it," he continued.

"The notion that even further down the line that the HIU is going to bring any satisfaction of any nature through a judicial nature is absolutely bonkers," he said.

"There is less chance now, not more. All they are going to do is raise false hope among families that something is going to happen."

He said that the HET was designed to carry out what was possible, saying that it was always known that some families would not want to go near it.

"I know what the ambition was because I invented it. It was the only unique idea I ever had in policing. It was about to give families more information than they ever had before. And of course if we did get evidence we would run the case.”

And he said that had the HET been allowed to complete its job, it would not have done away the hurt but at least Northern Ireland would be further on in confronting the past.

"The HET did exactly what I wanted to do, to work through from start to finish each case and try and bring some resolution to families," said Sir Hugh.

"If it got a conviction, brilliant; if we didn’t then the families would get some satisfaction. The satisfaction rates we had were in the 90 per cents. If families did not want to engage that was their absolute right."

He rejected the notion that it was biased in favour of British soldiers and the RUC.

"There was no favouritism given whatsoever. But what people seem to have forgotten is that, of the 3,000-plus people who died, the vast majority of them were not killed by the state."

He said a Historical Investigations Unit modelled on the HET might have some chance but asks: "If it’s the same as the HET why on earth did they close the HET down?"

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