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1 April 2010 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

The ‘Hysterical’ Enquiries Team

It all looks so frightenly familiar. Just when the hope that some vestige of truth might emerge on the sordid dealings of collusion in Britain’s dirty war of the past 30-odd years, the goalposts have been moved yet again.
The ghosts of Stalker/Sampson, have been stalking the corridors of the headquarters of the Historical Enquiries Team and Commander Dave Cox, the British import overseeing the investigations into some 3,000 so-called cold cases, would have been looking over his shoulder at his business acquaintances, lest he suffer the same fate as John Stalker.
The announcement by the PSNI Chief Constable that the Historical Enquiries Team is to be replaced by a team from within the PSNI, who ‘will deal with the past in a more organised and comprehensive way’, will come as no surprise to those clued in to the obstacle course that has been the HET investigations of the past five years. The highly specialised team set up by the British government in 2005, with a budget of around £38 million, has floundered in the shark-infested waters of Six-County politics.
From its shaky beginnings, the HET team discovered early on that around 1,000 files on the most serious killings were missing. Some were later recovered in Orange halls, thus confirming the view by relatives of the victims that the practice by the RUC of destroying and concealing evidence was systematic and widespread. The non-co-operation and refusal of RUC officers to engage with the enquiry has impacted on the original objective of a closure rate of 40 cases a month and a mandate to finalise investigations by 2011.
Two years into the HET investigations, the team had only progressed to 1974 and were losing detectives, most of whom were seconded from English police forces, by the score. Most English officers did not want to have their career prospects tainted by the emerging evidence of collusion and cover-up. Others were unhappy at the opening of files on some of the 124 murders as a result of shootings by members of the British Army.
The hopes of many relatives, who were prepared to give the HET team a fair wind, were dashed by the team’s findings and conclusions into the bombing of McGurks Bar, which killed 15 people and wounded hundreds of others. Predictably, the team found that there was no evidence of collusion in the bombings, concluding that the reporting of the atrocity as an IRA own goal, by the media, specifically the London Times and the Newsletter, was essentially what happened.
We are now left wondering if the decision by Matt Baggot to axe the HET has anything to do with  recent attempts to discredit its dectectives, who were heading the major probe into the murderous activities of the Mount Vernon UVF, the notorious unionist paramilitary gang, working under the direction of RUC Special Branch informers.
In opening this can of worms the Historic Enquiries Team were surely writing their own obituary.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot 


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