PSNI to disclose military intelligence material from shared database - says information was held for 'safe keeping'
The PSNI is to disclose military intelligence material it has unknowingly held for the past decade.
Police have held a database containing Ministry of Defence (MoD) intelligence since 2007, when Army operations officially ended in Northern Ireland.
A senior officer told the Belfast Telegraph the material was being held for safe keeping. He said both organisations had an understanding they would be responsible for their own material and police information has been made available to the courts.
He said there was nothing in the agreement with the military about what the police could disclose from the Army files.
"The PSNI can confirm that a database holding military intelligence was passed to the PSNI for safe keeping at the end of Operation Banner in 2007," said the PSNI's head of legacy and justice Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton.
"Prior to that date both the military and the police had stored intelligence on the database but each organisation retained access to its own material.
"A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by both bodies which agreed that each body would be responsible for its own material from the database.
"Since then, the PSNI has been disclosing police material held on the database to the Coroner, as well as informing the Coroner of our knowledge of any relevant military intelligence on the database, so that the Coroner could request further disclosure from the Ministry of Defence. The MOU was silent on the additional disclosure responsibilities which the PSNI might assume by taking possession of the database."
There was an outcry after it was revealed in court the police held the information within its systems and had not passed it on to legacy inquests.
Sinn Fein described it as "staggering".
The force's Disclosure Unit was "not aware" of the information so did not routinely search the MoD database when compiling intelligence material for release to the coroner, the Coroner's Service said.
Presiding Coroner Mrs Justice Siobhan Keegan intends to develop a disclosure protocol.
It's thought that while the information on the database was not known to the police, it may have been disclosed by the MoD during court proceedings over the past 10 years.
ACC Hamilton added: "Following a recent legacy investigation and having taken further advice about his disclosure responsibilities, the Chief Constable has now directed that because the PSNI holds the database, the PSNI has legal duties of disclosure in relation to the material stored in it.
"PSNI has informed the Presiding Coronial Judge and other criminal justice partners of this matter and has begun a process of checking the military database to ensure that our full disclosure duties are met. We hope that in most cases the majority of relevant material will have already been disclosed by the MoD.
“PSNI remains committed to ensuring that all legal duties placed upon the police service are fully discharged, despite the real and significant resourcing pressures it continues to face.”
Niall Murphy, one of the lawyers representing families waiting on legacy inquests said the PSNI had "failed in its duties" to disclose information to the coroner over the past 10 years.
He said the disclosure of the information "would require close supervision and a modicum of oversight".
"Some of these families have been waiting on justice for over 40s years and this situation has become untenable," he told the BBC.
Belfast Telegraph Digital