Northern Ireland news

PSNI appeal over ruling on independence in legacy case

Jean Smyth was killed by a single shot to the head as she sat in a car in west Belfast in June 1972

THE PSNI is to appeal part of a court ruling which found that it had not shown the required independence to carry out a new probe into the killing of a woman in west Belfast almost half a century ago.

Chief Constable George Hamilton said they were taking steps to satisfy the judgment in the case of 24-year-old Jean Smyth, but he also had "no alternative but to appeal" because of the implications for contemporary policing.

The mother-of-one was killed by a single shot to the head as she sat in a car on the Glen Road in June 1972.

At the time the RUC informed her family it was probably an IRA gunman who opened fire.

But records uncovered at the National Archives in London in 2014 suggested the British army's Military Reaction Force (MRF) fired shots in the area and were allegedly involved in her killing.

Last month the Court of Appeal ruled that the PSNI chief constable had not shown that a legacy unit within his force had the practical independence for a new probe.

Senior judges declared Mr Hamilton was under an obligation to further investigate the death of Ms Smyth in a way which meets human rights requirements.

Relatives hailed the verdict as a victory in their campaign for inquiries to be overseen by an outside agency with no links to the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Hamilton last night said it was a "matter of deep regret that policing has failed to provide answers and secure justice for the Smyth family".

"We accept the need for independent investigative action and we are actively considering how we satisfy the judgment's direction around practical independence in the case of Jean Smyth," he said.

"In addition, with regard to the future conduct of legacy investigations within PSNI, until such times as a Historical Investigation Unit (HIU) is established, I have directed a number of steps to be taken which will secure the practical independence of the Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB).

"These include, amongst others, the establishment of independent oversight for the work of LIB."

But Mr Hamilton added that "having studied the judgment carefully and sought legal advice, it is clear that it may have significant implications for contemporary policing".

"As a consequence, I have come to the conclusion that, regrettably, I have no alternative but to appeal this element of the judgment."

He added: "I have no desire for prolonged legal wrangling but I find myself in an impossible position. The case of Jean Smyth is one of a number which are challenging the independence of the PSNI. While these cases relate to legacy incidents, I am concerned by their potential implications for the delivery of effective, operationally independent and accountable policing in the present day."

Mr Hamilton also said the "right place for any legacy investigation is the HIU" and the failure to make progress has come "both at a financial cost and a cost to confidence in policing".

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