Northern Ireland news

'PSNI told about military intelligence database more than six years ago'

Ciaran Mac Airt is involved in the Paper Trail Project with Niall Ó Murchú

A group that sources historical documents for use in legacy investigations has claimed it told the PSNI about a military intelligence database in its possession more than six years ago.

Presiding coroner Mrs Justice Keegan revealed last week that a database including Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents has been held by police since 2007 but has not been routinely searched when compiling disclosure for legacy inquests.

The PSNI Disclosure Unit said it was not aware it was in police possession, a revelation described as "astonishing" by one solicitor.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said the PSNI "hope that in most cases the majority of relevant material will have already been disclosed by the MoD".

"PSNI has informed the presiding coronial judge and other criminal justice partners of this matter and has begun a process of checking the military database to ensure that our full disclosure duties are met."

Nationalist politicians said the police explanation was not sufficient and claimed the handling of legacy inquests was jeopardising nationalist confidence in policing.

The Police Ombudsman's office has requested additional information ahead of potential investigation.

Ciaran Mac Airt and Niall Ó Murchú, who run the Paper Trail Project, say they were raising the importance of the database and its contents with both the PSNI and the now defunct police Historical Enquiries Team back in 2011.

Mr Ó Murchú's uncle Ciaran Murphy was abducted by a three-man UVF gang as he walked from a Chinese takeaway on the Antrim Road in north Belfast in October 1974.

He said the existence of the MoD documents was raised with the HET team during a cold case investigation into the murder.

"The information management systems they (PSNI) use, including the Head system and Holmes, are state of the art, and are all linked to each other", said Mr Ó Murchú.

"The HET firstly denied they had access.

"We informed them of the names of the databases and the fact that we knew they could access them.

"When working with families, I asked for access to database material in every case when I have met the HET/PSNI since 2011.

"In fact, we started Paper Trail in 2014 because of the PSNI obstruction."

Mr Mac Airt said he also raises the database with the PSNI and claimed it was left to families, campaigners and legal teams to uncover documents in many cases.

He said: “With every critical British military and RUC document we discovered, we asked the PSNI and, formerly, HET why we discovered the information and not their professional investigative teams".

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