2 The Historical Enquiries Team |
10. The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) project
was established within the PSNI in 2005 following discussions
between the PSNI and the NIO about dealing with the legacy of
the Troubles. The objective
was "to assist in bringing a measure of resolution to those
families of victims affected by deaths attributable to the troubles
in the years 1968-1998 and to re-examine all 3,268 deaths attributable
to the troubles".
The NIO is committed to provide a total budget of £34m over
six years to the project,
primarily for the PSNI, but with smaller allocations for the Police
Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the Forensic Service Agency of
Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service Northern Ireland.
The aims of the project were defined by PSNI as follows:
We envisage a re-examination process for all deaths
attributable to the security situation with case reviews leading
to re-investigation in appropriate circumstances where there are
Families will sit at the very heart of our investigations.
The primary objective will be to work with them to achieve a measure
of resolution in these difficult cases.
The second objective
will be to enable a sense of confidence among those directly affected
and the wider public that all these cases will be comprehensively
examined to current professional standards, to the extent that
as an organisation we can be satisfied that all evidential opportunities
have been explored.
11. We visited the HET office near Lisburn in
March 2008 and met members of the management team, other members
of staff and a number of families whose cases had been investigated.
During this visit, we were given an overview of the HET project
administration and staffing arrangements, which can be summarised
as follows. During 2005, the HET office was established, premises
refurbished and staff recruited, and in January 2006 the project
became operational and started investigating cases. Mr Dave Cox,
a former Commander in the Metropolitan Police, was recruited as
the Director of HET, reporting directly to the Chief Constable.
The project initially had a staff of about 80, but the Team has
since grown to around 180.
Staff retention has been a problem. Mr Cox told us that in the
first year there had been a 40% turnover in staff, in part because
of the need for staff from outside Northern Ireland to live away
from home during the week.
Of the 180 staff, around four are serving police officers and
the remainder are retired police officers and civilian support
staff, recruited within both Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The Patten recommendation that the composition of police service
staff should be broadly reflective of the population of Northern
Ireland, particularly in terms of political or religious tradition
and gender, has not been applied to HET staff. There are two distinct
review and investigation teams within HET, one of which is staffed
exclusively by officers seconded from police forces in Great Britain.
This team was created to "deal with those specific cases
where independence is essential and where sections of the community
or individuals are not yet comfortable working with the Police
Service of Northern Ireland."
The other team is staffed by serving and retired police officers
from the PSNI and the former RUC. Most staff are located in Northern
Ireland except for a small team which investigates exceptional
cases relating to serious collusion allegations. This is located
in Putney, London, partly in order to demonstrate independence,
and also to facilitate recruitment of staff from outside Northern
12. The project's remit includes "all deaths
attributable to the security situation" between 1968 and
1998, but does not include cases relating to attempted murders,
punishment shootings and other injuries. 
HET investigators carry out an initial review of each case, including
those where there have previously been convictions, and whether
or not the review is requested by the family of the victim. The
team aims to build up as complete a picture as possible, linking
interconnected cases so as to understand the activities of organised
and serial killers, identifying all of those involved in the killings
(rather than just those who had previously been convicted) and
providing as much information as possible for families, some of
whom were now ready to engage, but others who would not perhaps
be ready until an older relative who did not wish to be reminded
of past events had died.
In many cases, no information had previously been provided to
families, partly because of the lack of resources at the time
of the death, and also because of the need to avoid providing
information which could have assisted paramilitaries. To date,
families have participated in 62% of the completed reviews. Many
families who did not respond to the initial contact chose to participate
at a later stage, after the review had been completed.
New cases are opened primarily on a chronological basis, starting
with the earliest from 1968 onwards, but some are taken out of
sequence for various humanitarian reasons, or where they are part
of a linked series or for some other good reason. Each case goes
through the same process of assessment, review, focussed re-investigation
and resolution to identify if there are any realistic prospects
of taking an investigation further. There has been good cooperation
from retired police officers,
and assistance and access to historical records have been provided
by the Public Prosecution Service.
13. At any stage, where evidence of serious criminal
conduct by police officers is identified, the Office of the Police
Ombudsman is notified, in accordance with the legislation.
We were told during our visit to the HET that to date, 44 cases
of alleged misconduct by a police officer have been referred to
the Police Ombudsman. Since the Ombudsman has no remit to investigate
paramilitary murders or deaths involving military actions, in
some cases separate but parallel investigations are carried out
by the HET.
14. According to data provided in May 2008, 1,107
cases have been opened; of these, the review process has been
completed for 363 cases.
The completion of a case does not mean that it is closed, because
there may still be further questions from families.
Mr Cox explained:
that does not mean that we regard those cases
as closed because
we work to a standard of answering the
questions that families put to us and in many cases these are
not legal questions, the worries that families have are basically
around could this have been prevented, was there a proper investigation,
down to the saddest of personal questions
We are working
with over 600 families and we have logged 4,000 issues that have
been raised with us.
The original target had been to open and close 40
cases a month, but this has not been achieved, primarily because
the final phase of providing resolutions acceptable to families
has taken longer than expected but also because of the complexity
of some of the cases.
In addition, the HET has had to absorb the investigations required
by the publication of the Police Ombudsman's 'Operation Ballast'
report into alleged collusion, which required it to establish
an entirely new external team, at a cost of approximately £1.6
million per annum.
The latest estimate is that the final set of cases, relating to
1998, will be opened in December 2011, and that after that "a
considerable number may remain open whilst complex investigations
15. In May 2008, the HET had reached 1973 in
its chronological process of opening new cases.
Of the completed reviews, one case has been referred to the Director
of Public Prosecutions Service (DPP) for prosecution and a further
eight have been forwarded for advice.
Both the Chief Constable and the Director of Public Prosecutions
suggested that the number of prosecution cases might increase
once the HET started to investigate more recent cases from the
1980s and 1990s, given that more computer evidence, records and
witnesses might be available, but the Chief Constable made it
clear that overall the opportunities for prosecutions would be
limited. Sir Hugh said:
Do I see the HET as prosecuting lots of people? No,
I do not. Does that mean there will be no prosecutions? No, I
think there may be some but the opportunities are limited.
16. The HET does not have an objective system
of measuring outcomes for families, although it has considered
commissioning an external evaluation.
Mr Cox explained the difficulties involved in representing the
range of responses from families:
HET experience of meeting and working with families
indicate that there is an enormous spectrum of family responses,
which must be factored into evaluation of this complex area. We
work with families who feel very badly let down by 'the system',
and who start with very little confidence in the HET. We meet
people who have, in the absence of factual information, created
their own narratives of events, and take some time to accept or
even explore factual information that differs from their own perceptions.
We meet with families who are openly hostile to HET, perhaps not
because of the HET process, but because they are angry and dealing
with their own grief or emotions. People's views change over time
and we have many letters from people who start off hostile, but
who six months later write to say they are very glad they engaged.
The evidence suggests that there has been a range
of responses from families to the HET project. During our visit,
we met some families who had been through the process. Whilst
they had different reactions to the outcomes of the HET investigations,
they were, without exception, grateful for the sensitivity and
consideration shown to them by HET staff and complimentary about
the leadership and professionalism of the Director, Mr Cox. A
similar picture was presented by Ms Jane Winter, Director of British
Irish Rights Watch (BIRW). She had encountered mixed reactions
and said that:
Some people have been very, very pleased with the
work of the HET and feel that they have really achieved some closure
to the loss of their loved one and other have been critical about
mistakes in the report and so on. The one thing we have always
found is that the HET are very, very family friendly.
WAVE, an organisation which provides support and
training services to people who have been bereaved, traumatised
or injured as a result of the Troubles, noted the benefits to
families of the HET's work. The Director, Mrs Peake explained
From speaking to a number of people who have come
through that process from the early 1970s, the fact that someone
is sitting down, listening, coming back with answers, adhering
to promises and undertakings they have given, has validity. Even
to record at the time that an investigation was not adequate or
things were overlooked, there is something very positive for families
in relation to having that process.
17. BIRW however also noted that progress was
slower than expected. It stated that:
Given the number of cases the HET has yet to investigate,
and given the simple arithmetic outlined above and the complexity
of many of the cases the HET is called upon to investigate, it
seems likely that the £34 million budgetnot all of
which is attached to the HETand the six year deadline for
dealing with outstanding murders is unrealistic.
According to information provided to us by the NIO,
the total expenditure by the HET up to 31 October 2007 was £13.7
million (of which £11.4 million was spent by PSNI).
The HET's projected expenditure for 2008-09 to 2012-13 is £31.37
million. Since PSNI's
original share of the NIO's HET budget was £26 million,
the projections indicate that, based on current estimates, the
project will overspend its original budget allocation by 60% (£16.77
million). Mr Cox
acknowledged that additional funding would be required and told
The Chief Constable of the PSNI and the NIO are aware
that the HET's work will extend beyond the current project funding.
However, the establishment of the Bradley/Eames Committee on dealing
with the past means that all parties will await their findings
and recommendations before embarking on further financial planning.
18. BIRW argued that the HET must be allowed
to continue, and given the additional resources necessary to enable
it to complete its work:
It is obvious when one looks at the sums and the
number of cases they have managed to close so far that they are
going to overshoot that target; they are not going to make it
in six years.
I am arguing that they should be given the
resources that they need to finish the job, even if it takes longer
that originally anticipated.
The Historical Enquiries Team, because of its openness
and its willingness to engage in dialogue with families is, I
think, helping to restore confidence in modern policing and some
of that thinking is also taking root within the PSNI who are themselves
becoming more family centred
.I feel that to just disband
the HET in the middle of its work would do more harm than good.
19. Some witnesses suggested that rather than
providing additional funding, the scope of the HET should instead
be reduced. The Police Federation stated that whilst it had supported
the creation of the HET, what it had envisaged as a straightforward
information sharing exercise with the families of victims had
turned into a much bigger exercise. It suggested that one way
of limiting the scope of the HET would be to confine its investigations
to those referred to it through the Victims' Commissioners acting
at the request of a family.
Mr White, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers
Association (NIRPOA) said that his members supported the HET's
objective to provide information to families who wished to know
more about the circumstances of the death of their loved one,
but he expressed concern that "a Rolls Royce industry had
been created" and that since £34 million had been ring-fenced
for the project, "structures will be put in place to spend
that money", despite the fact that "the reality of achieving
a prosecution is extremely limited."
The former Victims' Commissioner, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield's view
was that funding of the various historical enquiries should be
a lower priority than the provision of practical support to victims.
He said that:
For me, there seems something rather perverse about
a situation where over a great many years a large number of people
were very properly convicted for committing atrocious crimes and
then in the context of the political settlement the jails were
emptied and they are all out again. For what purpose do we devote
quite so much of a resource, human resource and financial resource,
to pursuing all of these old cases because clearly what we are
not going to do is end up locking more people up.
He stated that "there was something to be said
for" scaling down the remit of the HET,
and suggested that the Chief Constable should be asked to propose
how this could best be done so that historical work no longer
led to the diversion of police officers away from current policing
20. Another issue raised by witnesses was the
independence of the HET, given that its Director reports to the
Chief Constable of the PSNI. BIRW stated that "One of HET's
difficulties is that it is not seen as being sufficiently independent
by some people."
Sinn Féin suggested that "PSNI cannot deal with the
past" and that "there needs to be the establishment
of a credible, independent mechanism which treats all victims
equally without political bias."
It also stated that "the legacy issues need an island-wide
Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) reported that:
some families will not engage with the Historic
Enquiries Team because it is part of the Police Service in Northern
Ireland, they see it as intimately tied in institutionally to
the police and therefore they do not want to engage.
As we have already noted in paragraph 11, there is
within the HET a separate investigation team staffed entirely
by officers with a non-PSNI, non-RUC background. We did not hear
any allegations of bias on the part of the HET from the five families
21. The Chief Constable told us that he was committed
to keeping the HET project going for as long as it was needed,
because it was adding more value than it was costing in financial
terms. He stated that "if it was the will of Parliament or
Stormont" that the HET should be run by an alternative, independent
body, he would not be against such an arrangement. However, he
added that, as gatekeepers of the information, there would still
be pressures on the PSNI to service the HET.
He explained that he did not wish "to be rid of" the
HET, because it demonstrated a positive commitment by the PSNI
to fulfil to duties:
what [the establishment of HET] said was a
very clear statement about modern policing, which was that we
were not running away from anything, we were absolutely up for
facing the issues
it shows our determination to deal with
what is a police duty, which is to investigate and not to give
up on unsolved cases.
22. However, he accepted that if no additional
funding were to be made available for the HET, then it would have
an impact on the resources which he had available for current
policing activities, and stated that "the reality of course,
is if there is no more additional money, that, like everything
else will be drawn out of my current budget".
23. We note that in some cases, the Government
has a legal obligation to reinvestigate historic cases, and that
these investigations must meet the standards set down in Article
2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). While the
obligation to carry out an effective investigation into unlawful
or suspicious deaths comes into play primarily in the aftermath
of a violent and suspicious death, the procedural obligation to
investigate under ECHR Article 2 may be revived in certain circumstances.
The European Court of Human Rights has interpreted Article 2 as
where there is a plausible or credible allegation,
piece of evidence or item of information relevant to the identification,
and eventual prosecution or punishment of the perpetrator of an
unlawful killing, the authorities are under an obligation to take
further investigative measures. The steps that it will be reasonable
to take will vary considerably with the facts of the situation.
The HET's remit currently includes some cases where
there is a legal obligation to investigate, and also cases where
there is no legal obligation to investigate.
24. During our visit we noticed that whereas
the material relating to some cases was extensive, that relating
to others was sparse. This is hardly surprising given that computers
were little used in investigative police work during most of the
period covered by the HET. There were also more than 80 violent
attacks on police stations and the forensic laboratories were
twice destroyed during the Troubles. This is a significant factor
that must be borne in mind. It underlines the fact that not all
cases can be dealt with equally thoroughly.
25. We were impressed by the
personal commitment, sensitivity and professionalism of the Chief
Constable, the Director of HET and the other staff involved in
the HET. The project is unique and challenging, and it is clear
to us that there is a real determination to provide information
and answers to those who were bereaved during the Troubles. Whilst
the memories are painful, families have appreciated the efforts
made by the HET team to listen to their questions and to attempt
to explain the circumstances of their relatives' deaths.
26. We were surprised to find
that all cases are automatically reviewed by the HET. We accept
that there are benefits in building a complete picture of often
interconnected events. We also accept that a family which initially
chooses not to participate in a case review may later change this
view; and that there will be occasions where a family member (such
as a grandchild) might only feel able to participate once an older
relative has come to terms with the re-examination of painful
past events, or has died. In such circumstances, the fact that
the HET has carried out a comprehensive review of all cases will
enable it to help families at a time that is right for them. Nevertheless,
we conclude that in some cases scarce resources are being used
to investigate historic cases where there is little likelihood
of helping a family and limited opportunity of securing a conviction.
27. It is clear that the HET
project will need significant additional funding if it is to continue
with its current approach and complete reviews of all of the deaths
within its remit. We are not convinced that the funding is being
targeted as effectively as it might be. We recommend that alternative
ways of prioritising cases are identified so as to focus resources
on those cases where the next of kin of the deceased specifically
request it or where the existence of forensics or other exhibits
provides investigative opportunities which could contribute to
a successful prosecution case. We recommend that a mid-term project
review is conducted, with a view to establishing the costs and
benefits of continuing with the HET in its current form, and identifying
ways in which the scope of the exercise and the prioritisation
of cases could be adjusted so that the project can be completed
within budget and with maximum benefits.
28. The financial investment
in the HET has been considerable, but little information about
its progress and the benefits it has brought to families has been
made available to the public. We recommend that the results of
the review we call for above are published.
29. We are concerned that the
demands of running the HET project, and the likely overspend,
might compromise the ability of the PSNI to fulfil its primary
role of policing the present. We also recognise that some families
and organisations have questioned whether the PSNI is sufficiently
independent and would prefer the historic investigations to be
managed by an independent agency. We return to this point in paragraph
3 The Secretary of State announced in April 2005 that
the NIO had allocated funding to the HET project. During 2005
the HET office was established and staff were recruited. The team
became operational and began investigating cases in January 2006. Back
Ev 100. The civil rights march in October 1968 is often used as
the event to define the beginning of the troubles. In practice,
very few cases within HET's remit date from 1968, and the vast
majority of its cases relate to 1969 onwards. The HET website
refers to the start date as 1968, but other HET documents refer
to 1969. Back
The NIO quoted the total HET budget as £34m in its written
evidence Ev 102 Table 1 and £38m in oral evidence Q555 Back
Ev 102 Table 1 Back
Police Service of Northern Ireland, Policing the Past. Introducing
the work of the Historical Enquiries Team Back
Q 8 Back
Qq 10 and 11 Back
Q 11 Back
Police Service of Northern Ireland, Policing the Past. Introducing
the Work of the Historical Enquiries Team. Back
Ev 122 Back
Q 500 Back
Ev 132 Back
Q 513 Back
Q 463 Back
Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 s.55 Back
We consider the important question of overlapping investigations
in Chapter 3, below. Back
Ev 133 Back
Q 15 Back
Q 15 Back
Ev 133 Back
Ev 133 Back
Ev 133 Back
Ev 132 Back
Q 42 Back
Q 512 Back
Ev 133 Back
Ev 132 Back
Q 367 Back
Q 334 Back
Ev 104 Back
Ev 102 Table 1 Back
Ev 125 Back
Ev 133 Back
See Ev 133 and Ev 124-125 Back
Ev 133 Back
Q 373 Back
Qq 374 and 376 Back
Ev 134 Back
Q 431 Back
Q 228 Back
Q 235 Back
Q 237 Back
Q 375 Back
Ev 135 Back
Ev 135 Back
Q 175 Back
Q 59 Back
Q 61 Back
Q 503 Back
Brecknell v UK App No. 32457/04 (2007) Back