The Police Service of Northern Ireland is to draw together the vast majority of its legacy operations under a single command – Legacy Investigation Branch – which will begin work early in the New Year.
The Chief Constable George Hamilton made the announcement today at the December meeting of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
The Legacy Investigations Branch will assume responsibility for what was previously the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) work as well as any murder cases which took place prior to the establishment of Crime Operations Department in 2004. The work taken on by the new branch will include the Bloody Sunday Investigation and the re-examination of the on-the-run cases.
Mr Hamilton told Board members that current financial challenges had led to a change in how the Police Service responded to the demands of the past and the pace at which this would take place.
The Chief Constable said that although HET would close at the end of this month, its work would continue, albeit at a slower pace as part of a newly formed Legacy Investigation Branch.
Mr Hamilton said: “In the continued absence of an agreed political and societal response to Northern Ireland’s past, the Police Service plans to fulfil its statutory obligations through a new Legacy Investigation Branch. The formation of this Branch will ensure that we fulfil these legal obligations in terms of reviewing and investigating the past. It is our intention that it will be integrated into Crime Operations Department and will be accountable to me, under the direction of the Assistant Chief Constable for Crime Operations, Will Kerr.
“I have agreed to a resource level for this new Branch of about 70 officers and staff but current financial and operational pressures mean that it may take some time to get to this figure.”
The Chief Constable said he was conscious of the public interest in the PSNI’s ability to service the needs of the past and the requirement highlighted in a previous HMIC report on HET concerning the development of an appropriate accountability mechanism. Mr Hamilton said he would welcome the Board’s continued oversight of this Branch.
ACC Kerr explained that, with reduced investigative resources, it was inevitable that all of this work would take longer to complete. A small number of investigations into other Historical cases will remain with their current investigation teams in Serious Crime Branch. This is because they are at such an advanced point that any transfer to Legacy Investigation Branch would involve wasteful duplication.
Mr Kerr said: “The new structure will consolidate existing expertise and experience, provide a fully accountable means of dealing with the past and, against a background of diminished resources, form an effective buffer between investigating the past and delivering contemporary policing which has to be our priority. It is not perfect but it is the best we can do in the current unsatisfactory and unprecedented circumstances.
“We will be writing to affected families about the new structures in the coming days and also advising other interested groups of the new arrangements and timeframes in due course.”