Belfast Telegraph

Rich source of forensic evidence lost in decommissioning: PSNI chief

Only small percentage of Troubles crimes likely to result in convictions, warns Hamilton

George Hamilton
George Hamilton

Police Chief Constable George Hamilton has hit out at the "conspiracy" theories around police mishandling of evidence describing it as ironic given such a "rich source of evidence" was lost in the decommissioning process.

Northern Ireland's most senior police officer did not criticise the reasons for decommissioning but said it had left his officers with "one hand tied behind their back" in investigating Troubles crimes.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hamilton said only about 4% of 1,700 unsolved Troubles murders were likely to result in convictions but said there should not be an end to investigations into crimes committed in the past.

"I would not be defeatist about it," he said saying his officers would always follow the evidence and it was important for families to have possibility of justice.

"But that is because of the passage of time, reduction in the quality of evidence, memories fade, witnesses die, frankly, and as time passes the chances of a criminal justice outcome are significantly reduced."

TUV leader Jim Allister said that he agreed with the chief constable saying the decision to prevent examination of weapons was shameful.

"We are now reaping what we sow," he said.

Former UUP leader and first minister David Trimble insisted the IRA decommission before Sinn Fein could enter government. Legislation prevents police for examining those weapons, as well as those decommissioned by loyalist paramilitaries. 

The chief constable described that "as a major line of inquiry that is significantly reduced for us".

"There is a certain irony that when the police misplace or lose evidence, or evidence decays over the years because of the passage of time, and perhaps even because of some tardiness around our storage facilities and so on, then there's some sort of conspiracy attached to that," said Mr Hamilton.

"Alongside that we have a decision taken by the government, agreed by the political parties at the time, for the decommissioning process.

"Now I'm not questioning that, I'm not criticising it, I'm just saying that a rich source of forensic evidence is ballistic forensic evidence that we can recover from firearms and munitions and bombs and so on that have been recovered.

"Now, if all of that's been decommissioned, and there's a legislative provision to say that none of it would be forensically examined before decommissioning, then we're starting off with one hand tied behind our backs, so to speak.

That was the politics of situation. Jim Allister

TUV leader Jim Allister said the decision to allow decommissioning without forensic examination of the weapons was "appalling".

"That was the practise of Belfast Agreement politics," the MLA said.

"In order to sanitise and to deliver from public scrutiny and accountability the IRA and other terrorists were allowed to decommission with the promise in legislation there would be no forensic examination of their weapons of murder.

"That was shameful at the time and now we are reaping what we sow.

"That was the politics of situation which impinged and destroyed the criminal justice opportunities which should have been there and would have been there had politics not gotten in the way of it."

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