Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has carried out a follow-up inspection to consider the response and progress made against the recommendations of its 2013 report into the work of the now defunct PSNI unit, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
It was set up in 2005 to review more than 3,000 Troubles killings but was shut down due to budget cuts.
The report claimed the HET’s approach to investigations was inconsistent and had serious shortcomings. Inspectors examined the team after it was criticised in an academic report that claimed former soldiers were given preferential treatment during interviews and deaths involving the Army were not properly investigated.
During the follow-up inspection the work of the HET passed to the Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB), a new PSNI investigation unit. The interim body was set up until the new independent team the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), as proposed in the Stormont House Agreement, is established.
On this basis HMIC considered which recommendations from 2013 were no longer directly relevant and which should still be addressed.
Out of the 20 recommendations made, inspectors found that 10 had been implemented, two were part-implemented, three were no longer applicable and five remained outstanding.
Inspectors found that progress has been made, such as: the development of a comprehensive Manual of Guidance underpinned by robust policies and procedures; improvements to record keeping in relation to the work being undertaken, and decision making; and the development of a rigorous induction programme, which prepares people well for the role they will be undertaking.
The HMIC remains concerned about three overarching issues that were the subject of its initial recommendations, these are vetting to ensure independence; the management of intelligence; and openness and accountability.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham said: “HMIC recognises that improvements have been made against the 2013 recommendations, and that a small number are no longer directly relevant given the transfer of work to the Legacy Investigations Branch; however there are still improvements that could be made.
“We hope that this report of our follow-up inspection will help to inform those who are responsible for carrying on this very important and sensitive work.”
Commenting on the follow-up inspection, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “Today’s HMIC Report acknowledges that the majority of their July 2013 recommendations have been implemented.
“It also acknowledges that some of these recommendations have been overtaken by other events, including the formation of Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB) and the proposal of a Historical Investigation Unit (HIU), through the Stormont House Agreement.
“There are a number of recommendations highlighted in today’s Report that require further attention. In the days and weeks ahead, we will consider carefully how to make progress against the recommendations which are relevant to the PSNI. We will involve the Policing Board, the Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Office in our considerations, given their roles both in terms of accountability and the future implementation of the HIU.
“Accountability, openness and transparency go to the heart of public confidence in dealing with the past; and this is recognised in the recommendations made by HMIC. I have already stated that I would welcome an independent scrutiny panel, appropriately vetted, which would have unfettered access to Legacy Investigation Branch,” the Chief Constable continued.
“Given the Policing Board will have accountability responsibility for the HIU once it is established, I would welcome the same accountability to be applied to the LIB during the interim period.
“In addition, it is critically important to remind all of those with responsibility for policing; that I face a rapidly reducing budget and my first priority for reducing resources must be to keep people safe in the present day.
“The absence of a more holistic solution to dealing with the past leaves the PSNI in an invidious position, caught between financial constraints; overlapping, competing and occasionally contradictory legal obligations and public expectation. It is my view that the PSNI continue to bear the brunt of a broader failure to deal with the past.
“The Stormont House Agreement offers an opportunity for a more coherent approach to the past, and I have given my full support to the establishment of the HIU. In an effort to support its implementation, the PSNI will continue to meet with and provide assistance to all of those responsible for the establishment of the HIU as required in the months ahead.”
Policing Board Members have welcomed the follow-up report.
At the Board’s request Justice Minister David Ford, commissioned HMIC to undertake the follow-up report in July 2014.
Board Chair Anne Connolly said it was encouraging that substantial progress has been made, but that board members are concerned by the number of outstanding areas “despite the considerable efforts by the Board and the PSNI to progress issues identified in the 2013 report”.
She added that the matters of vetting, management, openness and accountability fundamentally impact on community confidence.
“The Board is very aware of the impact this report will have on all of the families who are affected by historical investigations,” she said.
“The Board will wish to discuss in much greater detail with the Chief Constable the necessary actions and timescales to remedy the outstanding issues identified by HMIC.
“Accountability for LIB will be through the Board’s Performance Committee. Discussions will also be needed with the Justice Minister and others in moving forward as it will be important that the lessons to be learned from this follow-up report are not lost in establishing the Historical Investigations Unit.”
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the report clearly vindicates the position of families that the HET was not independent.
“Today’s HMIC report clearly vindicates the position of academics and that of families who both raised repeated concerns the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was not independent in dealing with the death of loved ones and was not compliant with Article 2 of the ECHR – The right to life,” he said.
“The PSNI have now replaced the HET with Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) but many of the same problems remain.
“Today’s report further reinforces the position taken by the Westminster Joint Committee of Human Rights report which stated that, similar to the HET, the LIB cannot satisfy Article 2 due to its lack of independence from the police service.
“Only half of the original HMIC recommendations have been implemented in full and others have only been partially implemented. Questions remain surrounding the independence of those carrying out the investigations and those providing them with the necessary information.
“We now need to urgently establish the Historical Investigations Unit arising from the Stormont House Agreement. It is of paramount importance that lessons are drawn from this report and the failures of the past are not repeated.”
The Chief Constable said the HMIC have made no recommendations relating to the section on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
“The precise extent of the investigative obligations arising from Article 2 of the ECHR is a complicated and developing issue, the final determination of which can only be made by the courts,” he commented.
“There are a number of ongoing judicial proceedings in this area, both in the Northern Ireland courts and in the Supreme Court in London, that are likely to come to conclusion within this calendar year and the PSNI will welcome the legal clarity that these will bring.”
The full report can be accessed via the link: