Belfast Telegraph

HET inquiries could take longer

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) could significantly reduce the speed at which it investigates Northern Ireland conflict deaths following heavy criticism, it was revealed.

An inspection of the independent group of detectives, which is probing more than 3,000 unsolved killings by republicans, loyalists and members of the security forces, raised serious concerns about the operation of the unit.

Stormont MLA Paul Givan said the number of cases under review may fall to 20 a month and warned resources should be guaranteed to allow investigators to finish their work, even if it takes longer.

"There are some families who feel that they have benefited from the HET, that is clear, and I think it would be important that there is that public commitment that the HET will, whatever resources are required, complete all of its work," he said.

"It would be grossly unfair if it didn't to those who have not received their reports."

The head of the team, Dave Cox, will step down on September 28.

Pressure had been mounting on Mr Cox since a report was published by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which raised serious concerns about how the HET investigates killings by members of the security forces as well as wider governance issues.

Justice Minister David Ford told his Stormont scrutiny committee he supported properly resourcing the HET.

Originally it was envisaged that 30 cases a month would be investigated but that total has been narrowly missed so far, a departmental official noted.

Mr Ford said: "The fundamental issue is ensuring the resources are allowed for each case to be done properly and that has implications on the numbers that can be done at any time."

Mr Givan told the committee the HET had indicated that its caseload was going to reduce from 40 to 30 a month and that could fall to 20.

He said the HMIC report had revealed wider issues at the HET and the fact that different teams within the organisation seemed to operate under different practices.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said: "There is no doubt that the HET has taken a very serious hit and is a damaged organisation, certainly in the eyes of at least some members of the public, if not broader than that."

Mr Ford is to hold meetings on a monthly basis with the chair of the Policing Board to assess progress in implementing the inspectorate's recommendations.

He said he could not give a specific date when the HET would be fit for purpose or when reports would resume. The minister added the investigations should command public confidence but said there was no evidence victims' families have called for their reports to be re-examined.

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