The crisis of credibility engulfing the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has implications, too, for the PSNI investigation into Bloody Sunday.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) last week found that the HET had been half-hearted when probing killings by soldiers, but resolute in pursuit of paramilitaries. A few days earlier, the PSNI had announced that a dozen officers from the HET were being transferred to the Bloody Sunday investigation.
How can officers coming from the now-tainted HET inspire confidence that they will be rigorous in investigating the most controversial killings by soldiers in the history of the conflict?
The problem goes deeper. At a meeting a few weeks ago between relatives and senior PSNI officers, including Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie and Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, the police estimated that their inquiry would take up to four years.
Why? After all, the PSNI has a head-start on this one.
At the inquiry under Lord Saville, Soldier F was told that the evidence suggested that he had shot four men “without justification” - Michael Kelly, William McKinney, Patrick Doherty and Barney McGuigan.
Saville’s lead QC Christopher Clarke told Soldier P that he and Soldier J were the “only candidates” for the shooting of Michael McDaid, William Nash, John Young and Hugh Gilmour.
Clarke warned Soldier K that his own account of the killing of Kevin McElhinney amounted to a confession to murder.
The tribunal determined that Soldier G had shot Gerry Donaghey without justification, the fatal bullet having first passed through Gerard McKinney; that Jackie Duddy was unarmed when shot in the back, probably by Soldier R; that James Wray had been shot by Soldier E, F, G or H, and then shot again as he lay mortally wounded; that John Johnstone had been posing no threat when shot by either Soldier A or Soldier B.
There’s the list of prime suspects publicly identified. Their names and addresses will be known to the MoD. What’s to stop the PSNI team inviting them to come down to the station and answer a few questions? Like, now. Isn’t that how any police force anywhere would proceed in these circumstances?
PSNI chiefs respond that a suspect, once arrested, cannot be arrested a second time, so arrests now could damage the investigation. This is plain nonsense. Suspects are commonly arrested, released, re-arrested. The phrase “released pending further inquiries” has become a cliché.
Now we are told that officers carrying out the new investigation will be veterans of the HET. The question which arises for Matt Baggot and his force is: Are you people serious?