PSNI inspection: confidence in historical probes still low
FURTHER improvements must be made by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on how it handles the legacy probes in order to regain public confidence, according to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
The HMIC has examined current arrangements two years on from its damning report on a now defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET) that had been reviewing more than 3,000 conflict related killings.
Inspectors alleged the HET did not probe killings carried out by the military with the same rigour as those committed by paramilitaries.
The HET was axed last year and has been replaced by a new PSNI investigation unit, the Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB). This body is carrying on the work of the HET until a new proposed independent investigation team is established.
The creation of the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) was agreed by Stormont leaders and the British and Irish governments as part of December's Stormont House political deal - however, the whole accord is now in jeopardy due a major row over welfare reforms.
The HMIC said "progress has been made" but "further improvements are required" to the way legacy investigation work is carried out.
Of the 20 recommendations made in the original HMIC report, inspectors found that 10 had been implemented; two were part-implemented; three were no longer applicable since the demise of the HET; and five remained outstanding.
The HMIC expressed particular concern about vetting arrangements to ensure officers engaged in the work had no previous links to the cases; the management of intelligence; and in regard to the openness and accountability of the LIB.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham said: "It is vitally important that the public can have trust and confidence in the way legacy investigation work is carried out.".
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton welcomed the HMIC report. He said it acknowledged that the majority of the 2013 recommendations had been implemented.
"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.
"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," he added.
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the report "clearly vindicates the position of academics and that of families who both raised repeated concerns the HET".
"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", he added.