Reconciliation in Northern Ireland will not be furthered by a microscopic reinvestigation of the past, a former police officer has told MPs.
Raymond White, chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association, said the Government’s revised plans for legacy mechanisms represent a more “realistic” approach to dealing with conflict.
He said that instead of reinvestigating all historic crimes during the Troubles, cases should only be pursued where new evidence has emerged.
Mr White said non-specific claims of police collusion are not sufficient to justify fresh probes, unless they were accompanied by hard evidence.
“We don’t subscribe to an amnesty,” he told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
“We would say if a substantive criminal offence has occurred, or there is suspicion or reasonable suspicion, then due process should be used to investigate that matter.
“What we do object to is investigations that use police powers to investigate matters that are not of a criminal nature, where no substantive offence is actually alleged, and where the investigation, by and large, appears to be based on nothing more than what you would call an assertion or belief that something called collusion has occurred or that some alleged person is being protected because he may have been or may not have been an informant – in other words fishing expeditions.”
Our evidence session with the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association and representatives of veteransâ campaign groups has now concluded.— Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (@CommonsNIAC) July 15, 2020
📄A transcript will be available online in the next few days.
📺Watch the session back on ParliamentTV: https://t.co/3jmBFvFtm1
Mr White said the previous legacy proposals outlined in the Stormont House Agreement were “unrealistic”, “unbalanced” and “bordering on the unlawful”.
He acknowledged there was a need for clarity about what happened in the past but he questioned the use of the legal process to achieve that.
“I think it would be much better if we moved forward for the vast majority of us on the acceptance that, on both sides of the community, wrongdoing occurred and that people should move towards trying to build reconciliation around that,” he said.
“You can’t legislate for reconciliation, nor do you bring peace to the minds of people who have been made victims through a microscopic examination of the legacy of the past.
“Quite often, I think, we are harnessed to the mantra that a portion of the academics and others here have, that somehow or other, if you don’t go through this process of minutely examining every incident in the past, then you can’t move on to the business of reconciliation.
“I would preserve a small area for those investigations that could be undertaken where credible evidence is there – the other side I would invest the money in trying to find information giving systems, the recording of history by historians…”
Mr White said any legacy investigations should be carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, when the allegations involve police criminality, by the Police Ombudsman.
The association has suggested that an independent legacy commissioner could determine which cases should proceed to full reinvestigation.
Chris Albiston, a member of the association’s executive committee, told MPs it would be “very rare” for new compelling evidence to emerge in cases dating back decades.
“One of the grounds which is not usually articulated but is clearly behind some of the reinvestigations is that those who are demanding the reinvestigations simply don’t like the outcome of the first investigation,” he said.
“That, in our submission, can’t be proper grounds for a new investigation; there must be some substantive reason for identifying something that was wrong in the previous one or where there is new evidence.”