DAVE Cox's future as head of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was in doubt last night after the Policing Board said it had no confidence in his leadership.
The retired London Metropolitan Police commander has been in charge of the HET since it was formed eight years ago.
However, his position as director looked untenable after the board asked Chief Constable Matt Baggott to examine management arrangements.
All cases involving military personnel in killings, many of them in disputed circumstances and now under review, have been suspended.
A working group has been established to implement recommendations made by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) following a devastating report that said interviews by HET investigators of former British soldiers had been insufficiently rigorous.
Mr Cox is on leave. He was appointed by the then chief constable Sir Hugh Orde, now president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
A source close to the board said Mr Cox's days in charge could be numbered.
"It's doubtful if he'll survive this. [Board members] are deeply unhappy," the source said.
Even though reviews of military cases have been suspended, all other reviews will continue.
No further cases will be finalised until all the necessary reforms have been introduced.
The board made the no-confidence announcement just before meeting Mr Baggott in Belfast yesterday.
It said the working group would also review what it claimed were failures by senior officers to respond promptly to issues raised in relation to the work of the HET.
The PSNI has to find £13 million in its budget to fund the next two years of work by the HET, which was set up in 2005 to review 3,260 Troubles killings between 1968 and 1998. About 1,713 cases relating to 2,209 deaths have been completed.
The unit consists of around 100 investigators and its aim was to bring closure to many bereaved families who still wanted questions answered about the deaths of their loved ones. Previously the £30m needed to fund the unit was paid by the British government.
Part of the unit's work involves the reviewing of 157 killings by British soldiers between 1970 and 1973.
That investigative process was carried out by the so-called Red Team made up of retired detectives from forces across Britain but the HMIC report claimed the HET approach towards its work was inconsistent, particularly in relation to the inter-views of former soldiers.
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan said the systematic and cultural shortcomings underlined by the HMIC report could not be "veneered with a few new pledges of better performance".
He warned that totally removing the HET's role might satisfy a wellfounded anger but would also create a "vacuum for victims" and could remove any prospect of accounting to families who needed the truth recovered to the fullest extent possible.
Fundamental issues underlying the crisis of confidence needed to be remedied, he said.
"The fact that the fallout from this report on HET failures could have wider adverse implications for the fu ture shows that it is not only the families of those killed by security forces who have been let down by this mis-performance but everyone," Mr Durkan said.
Relatives for Justice, a group representing victims killed in disputed circumstances, said the removal of Mr Cox and even Mr Baggott would not be enough to address the fundamental and systemic problems at the heart of the HET.
"Such actions would be superficial and cosmetic as the real problem rests with the leadership and intelligence section of the PSNI that in effect created, oversaw and covered the illegal policy practice of the HET in respect of killings by the British army," the group said.
"Such disregard for the rule of law on the part of new policing at the highest levels has clearly demonstrated to families that the PSNI cannot be allowed to reinvestigate these killings. They cannot be trusted."
The group said an independent body similar to the police ombudsman's office had to be created.
"Such a body should have international judicial oversight. Families demand nothing less," Relatives for Justice said.
Mr Baggott told the board he would meet HET management to seek a response to issues raised by the HMIC report.
"He made clear that the investigation of all military cases by HET have already been suspended," a police spokesman said.
"The chief constable welcomed the board's establishment of a dedicated working group to take forward the implementation of the HIMIC report recommendations and looks forward to working with them.