Belfast Telegraph

PSNI chief tells of frustration as policing the past costs soar

By Rebecca Black

The PSNI Chief Constable has spoken out about his frustration over the failure of politicians to deal with the past as he revealed that policing the issue will cost the PSNI more than £25 million in the next financial year.

George Hamilton has urged them to reach agreement on legacy.

He acknowledged that it was a "challenging issue", but emphasised that, as a society, "we have come too far and achieved too much to give up".

"As Chief Constable I am frustrated and concerned by the absence of progress on dealing with the past. But this cannot compare to the raw hurt and pain that grieving families experience," Mr Hamilton said.

He also explained he had warned politicians mere weeks after he was appointed to his job in 2014 that action was needed to address the legacy of the past "if policing, and indeed our peace process, is not to be dragged backward".

And he warned that the "failure to make progress on dealing with the past over the last three years has come at both a financial cost and a cost to confidence in policing".

"And that cost will continue to increase the longer that the ongoing delay continues", Mr Hamilton added, writing in today's Belfast Telegraph.

Since the winding up of the Historical Enquiries Team in 2014 the responsibility for dealing with the backlog of thousands of Troubles cases has fallen for the most part to the PSNI.

The Coroner's Office has also been dealing with historical investigations through inquests, and the Police Ombudsman likewise examines a number of cases.

In a letter to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Hamilton warned that the cost to the PSNI of policing the past had been increasing steadily in recent years.

He supplied figures in his correspondence, which show costs rising year-on-year from £10m in 2016/17, to £7m for the current financial year up to December.

By the close of the next financial year (2017/18), Mr Hamilton estimates the bill for the PSNI's Legacy and Justice Department will top £13,273,000.

However, he warned that these figures do not include the costs of the "wider organisational support services".

He added that an estimate of the PSNI's "overall organisational effort towards legacy" in the 2017/18 financial year "could be in the region of £25m".

Mr Hamilton supplied the figures to the committee following his appearance there in October.

The hefty, growing bill for policing the past includes £5.3m for Operation Kenova, the probe into the activities of Freddie Scappaticci, the IRA man believed to be the British Army informer codenamed Stakeknife, and £3.8m for the Legacy Investigation Branch.

It also includes £829,000 on Operation Klina, an investigation into the actions of security service personnel in relation to an alleged shoot-to-kill operation at a hayshed at Ballynerry Road North, Lurgan, on November 24, 1982.

Michael Tighe (17) was shot dead and 19-year-old Martin McCauley was seriously injured when RUC officers opened fire on the hayshed.

Another £2.1m was spent by the Fingerprint Branch.

Mr Hamilton has previously spoken about how the cost of policing the past is diverting much-needed resources from front line services.

The £25m projected spend for 2017/18 is enough to pay the salaries of around 1,000 new police constables earning a starting salary of £22,443.

Last year Mr Hamilton warned the service was facing a £20m cut in funds, and that it was "no longer possible to absorb cuts without impacting directly on police officer numbers".

DUP MP Ian Paisley, who sits on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said: "It's a shocking cost and it means that, effectively, taxpayers' money raised today is being spent on yesterday's problems.

"We're never, ever going to get ahead and deal with key policing decisions today and tomorrow if we maintain this funding strategy."

Mr Paisley added that the Chief Constable had "good cause" to challenge the Government and demand it find another line of funding instead of continuing to drain vital capital from front line policing.

He said: "Ultimately the decision has to be taken by a British Government minister.

"They can dodge this one but, sooner or later, the bullet will catch up with them and I think these figures show this is a live matter."

Belfast Telegraph

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