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HIU must be independent of police say relatives

Janet Donnelly, whose father Joseph was shot dead by the British army in 1971
Connla Young

Plans are moving ahead to appoint a director for a new body tasked with investigating the past.

Proposals for the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) were revealed as part of the Stormont House Agreement last December.

Talks between political parties about setting up the independent body have continued in recent weeks.

It has emerged that a director designate is set to be put in place in advance of legislation being passed.

The Department of Justice recently hosted stakeholder workshops to outline the shape of the new unit.

Janet Donnelly, whose father Joseph Murphy was one of 10 Catholics shot dead by the British army during the 'Ballymurphy Massacre' in 1971, attended one of the workshops.

She believes no member of the security forces, past or present, should be given a role in the HIU.

“Where would the independence be?” she said.

“Where would the trust be? There would be no trust.

“I was not the only person with that opinion, a lot of people feel the same way and I think victims and families should be asked what they want and it has to be totally independent.”

The HIU will take on outstanding cases from the Police Ombudsman and now defunct Historical Enquiries Team and a report into each will be published

Other cases will also be considered by the HIU “if there is new evidence that was not previously before the HET” and is “relevant to the identification and eventual prosecution of the perpetrator”.

The unit will have full policing and investigative powers and the director will “have the power to designate HIU officers as having powers and privileges of a constable” in the north and Britain.

The HIU will also have “equivalent powers” to the Police Ombudsman.

Cases covered by the proposed new body include “deaths related to a religious or political grievance in or between communities in Northern Ireland and/or the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and occurred in Northern Ireland” between January 1 1966 and April 10 1998.

The unit will be an arms length body of the Department of Justice and be overseen by the Policing Board.

It is expected the HIU director designate will be appointed by the first and deputy first ministers in consultation with justice minister David Ford.

Between 150-200 investigators will be employed, with a headquarters in Belfast city centre.

It is understood that some staff members will also be based at another location.

It has also been revealed that the HIU will have a role in disclosing information to the coroner's service relating to legacy inquests.

Daniel Holder of the Committee for the Administration of Justice said the proposed unit needs to be independent.

“The Police Ombudsman in its work in conflict-related deaths has a policy of not employing former RUC or military personnel as investigators. If that policy position is reversed in the HIU, the new unit will ironically be less independent than what we have at the moment,” he said.

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