The following submission is from over 300 families who experienced conflict related bereavement. These combined experiences were caused by the actions of the State, loyalists and republicans. These families appreciate your time reading their thoughts.
The conclusions of the submission are that families do not want the HET to continue. Equally, the families of those killed by the British Army do not want the PSNI to examine these deaths.
Serious concerns exist around the hierarchical structure and control of the HET by the PSNI with reference to the inherent problems around the Legacy Unit.
Families feel doubly exploited by the Chief Constable who was aware since the 2009 report by Professor Lundy that the HET was acting unlawfully. In 2010 the Public Prosecution Service wrote to the Chief Constable advising that the Historical Enquiries Team were acting in contravention of their Article 2 obligations. That the Chief Constable facilitated the HET to continue from 2010 until July 2013 despite this information is appalling.
In 2012 the family of a 16 year-old boy killed by the British Army took a lead case on this issue. Solicitors for the Chief Constable argued the process was legal. That the Chief Constable was in receipt of correspondence from the Public Prosecution Service which supported the position of this family and yet failed to disclose or submit this to the court is beyond condemnation.
Families also ask the question if there was a ‘pragmatic’ approach to direct British Army killings, then what will happen when agents are involved in killings.
Families spoke of an ingrained culture within the HET and across key sections of the PSNI that would ultimately resurface and reframe to manage State interests.
Families are clear – they want an Article 2 compliant investigative process and the government has a legal obligation to provide this. The Historical Enquiries Team is beyond reform.
Families feel that the Policing Board did the right thing in ensuring that HMIC were called in, however now following their report more is required. They are appealing to you to dissolve the HET and to assist in creating a compliant investigative mechanism to examine the killings of their loved ones.
Families would like to extend an invitation to Board members to meet with them and hear firsthand their experiences and views on ways forward.
Relatives for Justice
Relatives for Justice submission to members of the Policing Board on the views of families following the HMIC inspection report into the PSNI’s HET
(RFJ will submit a separate paper to the Performance Committee concerning Article 2 obligations)
Relatives for Justice (RFJ) provide a range of support services to the bereaved and injured of the conflict. These include therapeutic and wellbeing support and legal and advocacy support.
Over this past six years a significant number of families who receive support from Relatives for Justice have engaged the HET. The vast majority have been deeply unhappy at the outcome. Many other families have yet to receive a Review Summary Report (RSR). Some families have been refused a copy of the report despite its completion.
Collectively, and prior to the HMIC inspection, all have expressed serious concerns about the way in which the HET dealt with them personally including the actual process of reviewing the killings of their loved ones.
Throughout this time there has been little space for the ventilation of these issues and as such the concerns of families have been largely silenced.
The HMIC report has in some measure vindicated their concerns but stopped short of suspending the HET, pending its replacement with an independent investigative process in which the families can have trust and confidence.
The families represented by Relatives for Justice have experienced bereavement through the actions of all actors to the conflict – the State, loyalism and republicanism. The HET have let them all down without exception.
Throughout August RFJ held several key meetings consulting with over 300 families who had either completed the HET process or whose cases were still ongoing. RFJ also separately engaged other NGOs, lawyers and academics who also raised serious misgivings about the HET continuing.
Families examined in detail the HMIC recommendations and measured these against the ability of the HET to continue to examine the killings of their loved ones.
The conclusion was resounding in that the families did not want the HET to continue. Further the families of those killed by the British Army, cases which will likely be transferred into the PSNI’s C2, equally did not want the PSNI to examine these cases.
Notwithstanding the very obvious systemic flaws in the HET families were very clear that they could no longer trust in the ability of HET and PSNI to examine these killings.
Very serious concerns also exist around the hierarchical structure and control of the HET via C2 and the Chief Constable. In particular the PSNI’s Legacy Unit is seen as a critical problem as it is largely staffed by former Special Branch officers. The issue of retiring and rehiring also focused strongly, with concerns about interference similar to what had occurred within the Police Ombudsman’s office. This made a mockery of the HET colour-coded teams supposedly meant to ring-fence an investigation from former RUC officers when in fact key decisions were taken by senior PSNI officers who were former RUC.
Families also spoke of cynical arrests of suspects flashed across the media for maximum publicity at times when the HET were criticised publicly or seeking more support or funding. Those arrested being subsequently released without charge, without a media focus. More recently one relative spoke of the PSNI arrest of two suspects in connection to the killing of his brother in the context of reestablishing the PSNI and HET post the HMIC report. The effect that this has had for the few families concerned has been horrendous.
The NIO too came in for criticism from families as it has also been directly involved in the work of the HET. This was seen as political, and maintaining a vested interest. It was also noted that former British soldiers worked for the HET and this too had added to the HET culture of thinking and assumed knowledge about events here whereby those who served in both the RUC and British Army were reference points for ‘context’ to killings, general attitudes and information. This seemed to replace actual fact-finding.
Apart from the experiences of families the treatment of civilian witnesses to killings was also raised. One person who was a witness to a killing was told by the HET that because he drove a Black Taxi that he must have been in the IRA.
It was put to some witnesses that they were possibly telling lies or involved in illegal activity. Some were genuinely frightened and refused to continue. The threat of prosecution existed to deter them. One was arrested.
Other witnesses have had their evidence crafted into statements by the HET that failed to adequately represent what they said. Some families were also told that if they didn’t have lawyers and NGOs, RFJ mentioned mostly, that the HET could better help and give them ‘more information’. These families eventually were let down and now say that they were emotionally positioned into cooperating in the hope that they would find out something. This was the most cynical exploitation of emotional grief.
Families who lost loved ones also felt they were treated with suspicion and questioning of them by the HET inferred they had committed an offence or were lying about circumstances. Many of the families of non-State combatants killed said that the HET were more interested in seeking information about friends and acquaintances of the deceased including asking about who they knew was involved in combatant groups. This was seen as intelligence gathering rather than examining the actual circumstances of the killings.
In particular families feel doubly exploited and cheated in that the Chief Constable was aware since the 2009 report by Professor Lundy that the HET was acting unlawfully in respect to the examination of British Army killings using its ‘pragmatic’ approach.
Further to this the HMIC Chief Inspector, Mr. Steve Otter, on July 3rd this year told families, lawyers, academics, NGO’s and the Police Ombudsman that in 2010 the Public Prosecution Service wrote to the Chief Constable advising that the HET were acting in contravention of their Article 2 obligations.
At the RFJ consultation meetings there were a significant number of families who had previously raised these same concerns with the HET, the Chief Constable including his senior officers, either directly or through lawyers and who were met with total dismissal.
That the Chief Constable, and his senior officers, facilitated the HET to continue from at least 2010 until July 2013 despite this information is appalling.
In 2012 the family of a 16 year-old boy killed by the British Army took a lead case on this issue seeking leave for judicial review of the Chief Constable and the HET. At the leave hearing solicitors for the Chief Constable argued that the HET process was fully Article 2 compliant.
That the Chief Constable was in receipt of correspondence from the PPS supporting the position of this family and yet defended the ‘illegal’ process in the courts is beyond condemnation. It was and remains deliberately mendacious and families have also judged his apology post the HMIC report in that context. He stands accused of perverting the course of justice.
Families firmly believe that the HET is beyond fixing and beyond reform. Many cite the failure of the HET in key cases where evidence of collusion exists to make such a determination, referencing that Lord Stevens, Dame Nuala O’Loan, Justice Cory, Sir Desmond De Silva and even David Cameron have all said that collusion took place, yet the HET will not.
Families also feel that if there was a ‘pragmatic’ approach to direct British Army killings then what will the HET, and senior officers within C2 and elsewhere, do when State agents are involved in killings via paramilitary organisations.
These are very serious concerns for the families that go to the heart of any investigative process of which there must exist trust, confidence and independence. The reality is that none of these essential principle values form the HET process. No amount of assurances, recommendations or promises by the HET will satisfy the families that the HET is an effective mechanism.
Families spoke of an ingrained culture within the HET and across key sections of the PSNI responsible for control and management of the HET that would ultimately resurface and reframe seeking to manage State interests.
There is equally the emotional strain and stresses of having to address these issues and many families have been deeply hurt by the actions of the HET and the Chief Constable. For many this is irreparable. Some of the words commonly used to describe how families feel are anxious, stress, hurt, harm, traumatised, angry, duplicity, deceitful, emotional-blackmail, untrustworthy, mendacious, unforgivable, and determined.
The families feel that if the recommendations were to be implemented that this would not address the core concerns of effectiveness, openness and transparency, trust and confidence, independence and impartiality, all essential criteria necessary for establishing accountability for their bereavement. Without these core values nothing can be achieved and the evidential record of the HET in respect of the families engagement has shown this to be the case. Many of the families see the recommendations as simply issues of housekeeping in line with standardised organisational practices.
Importantly Steve Otter in response to families said that it was not within his remit to suspend and dissolve the HET. He added had that power been within his remit then he would have likely recommended the dissolution of the HET.
Families also raised the issue of throwing good money after bad and questioned continuing with the HET in light of what has gone before. They feel that any resources should be used in the interests of the greater number of families and within a new independent process.
Families want the Committee of Ministers and the UN Office of the Special Rapporteur for Truth, Reparations and Non-Recurrence to become involved. They have also requested the involvement of the UN Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee Against Torture that recently recommended a more effective transitional justice mechanism, compliant under the law.
Families fear that if they do not speak out collectively now they will again be subjected to a process that will seek to prevent truth and accountability and which will not serve their interests. They will not let that happen again.
Families are clear – they want an Article 2 compliant investigative process and the government has a legal obligation to provide this. They will not accept the failed HET no matter how it is repackaged and presented. The failings of the HET are much more substantial and go beyond it and into sections of the PSNI who retain vested interests. To repeat what families said – the HET is beyond reform.
(September 5th 2013)
Relatives for Justice