Chief Constable Matt Baggott has announced that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is returning to Northern Ireland yet again, this time to investigate the rôle of the Historical Enquiries Team. That body was set up by former Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde to revisit hundreds of unsolved killings including controversial incidents involving members of the British army.
The deployment of HMIC follows the publication of a report by Dr Patricia Lundy of the University of Ulster into how cases of British soldiers accused of killings in Northern Ireland are allegedly processed. She has challenged whether these cases are being given a ‘lighter touch’ in course of investigation compared with HET’s handling of cases linked to non state and paramilitary organisations.
Dr. Lundy writes:
“It is of considerable concern that there appears to be inequality in treatment where state agencies, in this case the military, are involved, compared to non-state or paramilitary suspects”.
Drafting in HMIC is the oldest trick in the book. It is a recurring theme in the same vein of Stalker, Kelly, Sampson, Stevens and God knows how many other outside police officers to review and investigate unsolved serous crime including murder. Most of these probes ran into the sands.
What should people expect on this outing when set against the many other outside investigations which by now probably cost millions?
Where an informer is at the heart of a so called operation involving the security services the usual arguments are trotted out to prevent going beyond a certain point of investigation. National security is cited, as a reason for not ‘going the whole hog’ to get to the root cause for the taking of life, sub culturally known as, ‘hard arrests.’
Sometimes the authorities seek and acquire what is known as a ‘Public Interest Immunity Certificate.’ This effectively closes down critical lines of enquiry. The argument goes that national security must not be compromised. Game set and match to government. Time has been purchased. The focus shifts and the hope is that time will erode awareness and remove the heat in the meantime.
Eventually perhaps, some human rights driven lawyer will bring a case to Europe, or an academic like Patricia Lundy will challenge a particular alleged abuse or culture. We have many examples of this. Europe has had to give a directive to have the backlog of inquests sorted out in Northern Ireland. Those inquests are now being blamed for financial and personnel deficits in other areas of policing.
Presuming Dr Lundy’s charges have merit, why would this be? Who directed this alleged approach or strategy? Does anyone genuinely think that trained investigators whose rôle is to probe and solve crime, unilaterally decide to abandon their own professional standards and to allegedly deploy one set of rules to one case and another set of rules to another case? This is the question which must be answered in the HMIC probe.
Looking back into past cases seasoned barristers and solicitors contend that in many incidents the approach taken by accused soldiers and police officers under cross examination, led to one conclusion – that a line had been agreed and rehearsed.
These lawyers further claim in wake of an incident involving killings by the army, in-house MOD lawyers were automatically accessed to the soldiers linked to the shooting, and a full debriefing undertaken. This was reportedly followed by the involvement of solicitors called in from outside for meetings with the soldiers.
All this is said to be packaged before investigating police officers are afforded access to the soldiers for questioning about the circumstances of the killings. I recall, in North Armagh, a colleague being told by a friendly police officer while we were corralled in a barracks courtyard, that a particular shooting was ‘a wipe out.’ Many many hours passed before a police statement surfaced to paint the picture and circumstances surrounding the killings. While we were waiting, was one of the above implied legal debriefings taking place?
One of Northern Ireland’s most senior criminal lawyers who has handled scores of controversial cases has spoken of his concerns flowing from the Lundy Report.
Clearly, following Dr Lundy’s publication, Matt Baggott felt under sufficient pressure on this matter to call in HMIC. Is it enough? Some think it is not enough. In their eyes they see this as the police investigating their own. In other words – not independent. Perception is always important here.
In recent weeks a major discussion has developed on eamonnmallie.com about how Northern Ireland is ultimately going to address the past and how the communities here are going to live in peace and harmony.
This debate received a big shot in the arm when the Chairperson of Sinn Féin’s National Executive, Declan Kearney challenged republicans to address their past in the context of getting to know unionists. The Jeffrey Donaldsons of the unionist world have challenged the IRA to say whether it is ready to ‘come clean.’
The republican credo gained further legs in speeches over Easter with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness picking up Declan Kearney’s baton. Many unionists are starting to believe republicans, among them Jeffery Donaldson who in a discussion with Brian Rowan and others on Nolan unequivocally said he accepts the IRA’s war is over. This is a good sign with a senior voice in mainstream unionism seriously engaging with loyalists and republicans at grassroots level.
Dr Lundy’s concerns on investigations into the Military remind us that many truths are being sought and that many are possibly being blocked or buried in different places and at different levels.
Will the British government and authorities also ‘come clean’ and convince everyone their war is unequivocally over? When does that government become seriously engaged in the discussions on Northern Ireland’s past and on the whole question of reconciliation?
Will other mainstream unionists and the Executive now seriously address the past and reconciliation, to meet the palpable grassroots yearning for that reconciliation?
The mood is surprisingly positive right now in Northern Ireland. Outsiders have a plethora of good reasons for which to visit here. Let us secure the future in peace.