Belfast Telegraph

I did nothing wrong, says ex-HET investigator Steve Hobbs

By Victoria Leonard

A former Historical Enquiries Team (HET) senior investigator has said he wants to "clear his name" after waiting more than four years to learn he would not be charged with the theft of police documents.

Father-of-four Steve Hobbs (66), who was part of the HET's senior management team, had been under investigation over allegations of misconduct in public office, breach of the Official Secrets Act, theft and other offences.

Mr Hobbs was detained and papers seized after a raid at his house in Hillsborough in February 2014. Another search was carried out at his home in England.

Mr Hobbs, who spent 33 years in the Metropolitan Police before joining the HET in August 2005, was released pending a report to the PPS.

He had worked on high-profile Troubles cases such as the murder of UDA commander Tommy English and Operation Ballast - the investigation into events surrounding the murder of Raymond McCord Jr which uncovered UVF killers were being protected by the police.

However, the London native said he only learned by letter on Tuesday that no further action would be taken - over four years and three months later.

Mr Hobbs claims a superior officer recorded the fact that he had been granted permission to keep the documents, but despite this he was left with a "shadow hanging over his professional reputation" for years.

After his arrest, Mr Hobbs said he got "hundreds of phone calls" from people in Northern Ireland to whom he had provided assistance during his time in the HET, expressing their concern for him.

"It has been a very stressful time, a nightmare from start to finish," he said.

"I want the record to be put straight that I didn't do anything wrong. I'm speaking out now to clear my name.

"I want to let the families who I helped over in Northern Ireland and who I really cared about know.

"This has cast a shadow over my professional reputation. Now I feel a weight has been lifted."

Mr Hobbs added he was a detective superintendent and "one of the most experienced murder detectives in London" when he was "invited here by Sir Hugh Orde and Dave Cox to help set up the HET".

"I was reviewing cold cases and then I went on to be the director of operations for Operation Ballast," he recalled.

"I was also in charge of bringing the trial for Tommy English to court - one of the biggest trials in Northern Ireland history.

"I became the lead senior investigating officer at the HET.

"Predominantly, my work was to find a resolution for families from right across the divide, and for the RUC and the Army, with no fear or favour. I was in the HET for over eight years."

When Mr Hobbs left the HET, he admitted he "took some of the documents" with him, but said these were "predominantly" his own notes.

"It was all my day books on everything that was going on, my thoughts, my rationale regarding investigations, details of meetings," he said.

"I had copies of reports that I had written. Some of them were sensitive, in fairness, around some cases which were probably quite controversial in Northern Ireland.

"But, crucially, on the day that I left we were asked for exit interviews and I had a discussion with my superintendent.

"I said I had the material and on the back of that he said I could retain that.

"He said he would write it in his day book and I wrote it in mine. Luckily he did."

On February 26, 2014, Mr Hobbs said police arrived at his homes in England and Northern Ireland "to get their material back".

"I can understand that to some extent, but then they arrested me on suspicion of the theft of those documents," he said.

"I told them during the house search, before I was arrested, that my superintendent knew I had kept the notes.

"I was locked up from 2pm until midnight, then bailed and back in from noon until midnight the next day. I was released pending a report to the PPS.

"It was only last Tuesday, over four years later, that I was informed there would be no further action, no prosecution. I lived in limbo for all of that time.

"It was an erosion of the integrity of the establishment and the HET, and it doesn't do much for public trust."

The PSNI said: "An alleged crime was investigated and a file sent to the PPS. Prosecutorial issues are a matter for the PPS."

The PPS said: "A police investigation file on this matter was received by the Public Prosecution Service in February 2015, concerning allegations of misconduct in public office, breach of the Official Secrets Act, theft and other related offences.

"After a thorough consideration of the evidence presented at this stage, the police conducted further enquiries on a number of supplementary matters, which were concluded in November 2017.

"This complete file gave rise to complex evidential and legal issues which required careful consideration including the receipt of the advices of independent senior counsel.

"A decision of no prosecution was issued in relation to a 66-year-old man on May 29, 2018, on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to meet the Test for Prosecution."

The Test for Prosecution involves an assessment of whether the available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of conviction, and whether prosecution is in the public interest.

Belfast Telegraph

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