Belfast Telegraph

Murders probe 'set up to fail'

A team of detectives established to investigate more than 3,000 unresolved murders in Northern Ireland is on the verge of being shut down after it was set up to fail by inspectors, Sir Hugh Orde has said.

Northern Ireland's former chief constable created the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) as an innovative way of meeting the demands of victims of republican, loyalist and state killings for more information about their loved ones' deaths.

The unit was severely criticised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and a halt was put to publishing new reports.

Sir Hugh said: "My sense was we were set up to fail.

"I would have rather had a broad group of people across Northern Ireland to say the things that they were concerned about.

"We knew it was a huge risk, I felt, I knew, it was the right thing to do."

The senior officer, now president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), returned to Northern Ireland to take part in the West Belfast Festival. He was in discussion about dealing with the past conflict with BBC journalist John Ware.

Sir Hugh said the HMIC's inspection was out of context and some criticisms were not fair. Among them were that the HET did not investigate killings by members of the army as rigorously as those by paramilitaries.

He added: "People from outside don't understand the complexity and emotion and versions of the truth and history that people have."

He said it was impossible to prosecute all historical cases and police could not resolve the issue alone.

"The critical bit of this for Northern Ireland was around, I felt, being really open and transparent and trying to give legitimacy to respecting the past and policing the future.

"My frustration now is how do you take dealing with the past forward?"

When he established the HET he expected politicians to bring forward a broader solution.

The latest effort to deal with the past foundered with the end of all-party talks chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass over Christmas without agreement.

He recognised the problems politicians faced.

But he added: "My frustration is we are continually talking about what has gone on rather than what happens next."

He said not every family needed a full scale independent murder investigation like one he previously worked on probing state collusion in loyalist killings.

The HET, which is many cases provided information to families rather than produced prosecutions, was partly a recognition of that.

The senior officer added: "I personally don't believe the legal process will resolve the issues for everyone here that has a right to something and at the minute they have nothing - that is not right."

He told an audience of victims and politicians that he took a risk to establish the unit.

"The more risk you take because it is the right thing to do, the more vulnerable you are to be attacked."

He commented: "We created probably the most impressive, depressing, archive of murder in Europe."

The former head of the HET, Dave Cox, has said at one stage it was more like a publishing house, such was the pressure to publish a large volume of reports dating back to the earliest days of Northern Ireland's 30-year conflict.


From Belfast Telegraph