Belfast Telegraph

Leading figures relieved to see the HET's inquiries shut down, claims Orde

Sir Hugh
Sir Hugh
Stephen Otter with the review in 2013
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Sinister elements hiding behind the badges of authority or under paramilitary balaclavas benefited from the closure of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and many prominent figures today may have been fearing a knock on their doors, Policing Board members have said.

Former PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde said in an article in yesterday's Irish Times that he believed the closure of the HET - which was reviewing Troubles murders chronologically - was in part down to the fact it was getting close to tackling modern day murders.

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

Ulster Unionist MLA and former RUC reservist Alan Chambers said the HET had its limitations and in many cases simply did not have the resources to fully re-investigate the crimes.

"It also did not receive the co-operation or backing from political nationalism that it needed," he added.

"Hugh Orde speaks about how the HET was dismantled as they came closer to investigating more recent crimes. It is safe to assume these investigations would have had more chance of success.

"Perhaps there were those in authority who realised that there were prominent figures in the public and political arena who might have been beginning to fear a knock on the door from the police?"

Mr Chambers said all Troubles crimes should be investigated by a fully-resourced PSNI.

"Any new structure to re-investigate these murders will still be viewed with suspicion by republicans unless the terms of reference suits their narrow agenda of demonising the lawful State forces at every opportunity," he said.

Sir Hugh set up the HET to examine all murders in the Troubles. Of around 3,500 cases, it had completed 2,000 reviews. While prosecutions were rare, satisfaction with the HET's reports was high among families, he said.

But a critical report in 2013 by former Devon and Cornwall Police Chief Constable Stephen Otter found the HET had reviewed some killings by the Army and RUC with "less rigour" than other cases - ultimately leading to its closure by the then PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott. Sir Hugh said the HET could still play a role in the struggle with the past.

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly said Mr Orde was well regarded during his time as Northern Ireland's police chief and there was a lot of truth in his comments. However, she said there were leadership issues in the final days of the HET which played a part in its demise.

"There was no universal confidence," she said.

"It did not go far enough and there was a lot of wrong in how it collapsed. But there have been many sinister forces at play over the years that have not allowed justice to prevail.

"The Provos blew up the forensic labs, there was the deliberate destruction of State records. Many have sought to avoid accountability on all sides."

Mrs Kelly said the absence of any mechanism in the past five years replacing it has led to division, allowed history to be rewritten, incorrect perceptions to flourish and allow some in politics to play victims' groups off each other.

She agreed with Sir Hugh when he described it as an "absolute tragedy" that nothing was in place to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

"We need politicians of the type of the Good Friday Agreement. We need politicians to take risks. We just need political leadership," she said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the HET had left many frustrated.

"Having met with many innocent victims, the HET, whilst well intentioned, left too many families with an inadequate report," she said. "The cases lacked professional rigour and detail. Victims become incredibly frustrated when basic details were incorrect."

She added: "In terms of dealing with the past, we must ensure victims have always access to justice, there must be no amnesty, and we must work for the definition of a victim to be changed to ensure the perpetrators are not treated the same as innocent victims."

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