Belfast Telegraph

Osama hunt software to create Northern Ireland Troubles database

By Liam Clarke

Computer software used by the US military to locate Osama bin Laden will help create the most comprehensive record ever of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) plans to leave behind a sophisticated computerised record of every single incident in the Troubles which will be handed over to the Government in 2014.

Secretary of State Owen Paterson believes it could form the basis of a Troubles archive for historians. He hopes to discuss the issue with the Stormont Executive in the coming year.

The HET is re-investigating every single Troubles-related death in Northern Ireland and providing an individual report for the relatives of each killing.

Now Dave Cox, the team's director, has revealed that it has put every incident recorded by the RUC on a unique database where trends and patterns can be analysed with the software.

Each day for most of the Troubles, RUC duty inspectors recorded everything of significance that happened in their areas.

Mr Cox said: "In effect, what we have is a personal diary of the RUC on a day-to-day basis through the Troubles - that level of detail gives context to the killings.

"Analysing it in retrospect has provided us with evidential opportunities that weren't obvious at the time, and I believe it will be of considerable value to historians.

"We used the same i2 software which the Americans used to catch Osama bin Laden to pull all this together. It provides a very powerful analytical tool which we have developed for our purposes with the support of the company."

The record takes the form of a map. Atrocities flash up as dots, colour coded for groups thought responsible. Click on one and a link to other related incidents and gun histories opens up.

In all, 3,260 killings in Ulster between January 1, 1969 until the signing of the Belfast Agreement in April 1998 are covered in what is the world's largest cold case review ever.

It includes deaths caused by paramilitaries and security forces.

The HET started work in 2005 and aimed to complete its work by 2009. The first few years were largely taken up with collating the records of every killing in the Troubles, but the work of analysis is now proceeding quickly. Some 1,856 reports on individual deaths have so far been completed or are about to be delivered.

Some killings have been taken out of historical sequence, but as a rough guide the probe has reached the mid-1980s.

Reports on the IRA's Enniskillen poppy day massacre in which 11 died in November 1987 and on the killing of eight IRA men and a civilian in Loughgall by the SAS are due soon. But some reports from the early 1980s, for instance the murder of census taker Joanne Mathers in Londonderry in 1981, are not yet completed.

At first there was suspicion of the HET, a police initiative set up by ex-PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde to deal with the past. As time went on it gained acceptance.

Attention is now focusing on its legacy to the province.

This month Mark Durkan of the SDLP asked the Secretary of State if he thought "that more could be done to draw out the issues, patterns and lessons that can be learned from the HET's work, which at present has gone only to the families and not to the wider public".

Mr Paterson said: "The HET is building up an extraordinary archive of knowledge."

He added: "Down the road, this might be a matter that is well worth discussing with the devolved Executive to see whether the HET can form the basis of an archive for historians."


The cost of some Troubles-related inquiries:

* £195m - cost of Bloody Sunday Inquiry

* £70m - original budget for inquiries into deaths of Robert Hamill, Billy Wright and Rosemary Nelson

* 40 - the number of cases reviewed by HET monthly

* £40m - projected cost of HET

* 90% - satisfaction rating of families who receive HET reports

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph